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JUNE IN WINTER
By Patricia Anne Phillips
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2003 Patricia Anne Phillips
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJune 1999
"Hi, Baby. My plane will be in at five. I'll see you tonight around six-thirty. I'm taking a cab home, so don't bother to pick me up."
Tracey Woods smiled as the recorded message confirmed that her husband's flight would arrive on time. Listening to his voice purr over the machine, she tingled inside. Goose bumps rose on her arms and her face flushed with excitement. Donald's baritone had the timbre of a sassy, silky saxophone.
She couldn't believe today was their third wedding anniversary. Soon her husband would be home after a four-day business trip. Boy, how she'd missed him.
Tracey had decided to celebrate this anniversary differently. They would stay home. There would be dinner with the family, which consisted of his mother, Mildred, his twenty-six-year-old daughter Janet, from his first marriage, Tracey's Aunt Flora, her sister and brother-in-law, and her niece, Lisa. Dinner would be served at seven. Everyone knew to leave by ten o'clock so that Tracey and Donald could be alone. After three years, one would think that she would have grown used to his traveling, but she had not. Donald was a prominent real estate developer and, since Tracey was a real estate broker, she had been impressed by his reputation long before they had ever met.
She frowned. "Forgot to chill the wine," she whispered to herself. Tracey ran down the hallway and went to the kitchen. She grabbed two bottles of Bordeaux from the wine rack and put them in the refrigerator.
She stood before the full-length mirror in their bedroom to see if she had completely zipped the back of her black dress. Her high neckline skimmed across her throat, while the back worked into a draped-cowl effect. The dress was made of crepe and was cut with superb skill. It was a demure style, but nevertheless caught the eye. She ran her fingers through her jet-black hair, which framed her velvet brown face like shining gilt. She was only five-foot-six, but her slender figure made her look taller. Donald loves this dress, she thought. It fit close and revealed the long, shapely legs he constantly complimented. She slipped into a pair of black, open-toed pumps and hurried down the long stairway.
Tracey went to the kitchen to cheek on dinner. She threw a bibbed-apron over her dress. The prime rib was medium rare, just as Donald loved it; the vegetables were not too soft, and she baked his favorite dinner rolls.
Her impeccable dress gave her the look of someone who had never been in a kitchen. To everyone's surprise, Tracey was a good homemaker. She liked having a meal ready for Donald when he came home. With their salaries, she could have easily hired someone to cook and clean their house. As large as their house was, Tracey still preferred to do her housework. She felt no one else could.
Donald had built the house two years before he and Tracey had met. The moment she saw it she knew it was her home. The English Tudor house had four bedrooms, three baths, and a game room with the most beautiful pool table that she had ever seen. A large foyer opened onto a central living and dining room, flanked on one side by a kitchen and family room. The house sat on a hill in View Park. From their family room, the couple had a panoramic view of Los Angeles.
After Tracey and Donald were married, he let her redecorate as she chose. She had a flair for decorating and enjoyed making changes to make her husband more comfortable. In spite of the age difference, the two were compatible in every area. Tracey was thirty-six years old and Donald was fifty-two. He had the body of a thirty-five year old and worked out in their home gym to maintain it. He also had the prowess of a much younger man.
She sighed, and looked at her watch. It was six o'clock. Hearing the doorbell ring, she rushed to the foyer to admit her fast guests. Tracey smiled, knowing that it was her family because her brother-in-law was early for everything. She opened the door wide and laughed out loud. She had guessed correctly.
"I knew it had to be you guys," she said, as she stood back so they could come in.
"John's been rushing me since four, girl. Why he has to be an hour early for everything, I don't know," Robin said, and gave Tracey her jacket. Tracey kissed Aunt Flora and grabbed Lisa's hand.
"You're almost taller than I am, and you're only eleven years old."
"I know. I'm already taller than my mom. Am I going to be the only kid here?"
"Yes, honey, but you can go into the den and watch television. I've told you before when you come over here, you should bring a friend."
Tracey went to the kitchen to check the dinner again and walked back into the living room with a tray of hors d'oeuvres in her hand.
"Well, it won't be long now. The others should be coming along, and Donald should be arriving in about thirty minutes," she said and her eyes lit up, as they always did when she spoke of her husband. All she could think of was lying in his arms later that evening. He had been working so hard, and she had been so involved in the sale of a twenty-five-unit apartment complex, that they hadn't made love in more than a week. Everyone better remember to leave early tonight, she thought, with a smile playing across her lips.
The doorbell rang again. Tracey opened the door and hugged her mother-in-law. When Tracey held her arms out to hug Janet, Donald's daughter, she pushed past her.
Tracey pretended that she hadn't noticed the icy treatment. Three years, and one would think Janet had accepted her father's marriage, and realize that he would never go back to her mother. She never hid the way she felt about her parents' divorce. But she had to invite Janet for Donald's sake. After all, it was their anniversary, and nothing or no one would spoil her night, Tracey decided, as she welcomed her guest.
Mildred looked at Tracey with a warm smile. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
"No, Mildred. I have everything under control." Tracey smiled back, feeling her spirits lift. She remembered how, at first, she had sensed that Mildred wanted her son to marry a woman who was close to his age. But now, Tracey knew Mildred liked her. Over the past three years, Mildred had accepted Tracey as part of their family. Tracey was Donald's wife, he loved her, she loved him, and that's the way it would stay.
The adults gathered in the family room and watched the big screen TV. They chatted, waiting for Donald to arrive:
Tracey looked at her watch again. It was close to seven. Donald should have been home half an hour ago. Through their laughter, Tracey heard the shrill of the phone.
"That's probably Donald, with some explanation about why he's so late" Tracey chuckled, as she moved quickly into the foyer. "I'll be right back"
She was still smiling when she picked up the phone.
"May I speak with Mrs. Woods, please?"
Tracey frowned slightly at the unfamiliar, formal voice. She hesitated. Who could this be at this time of night? "This is she."
"Mrs. Tracey Woods?"
It took a moment for Tracey to answer through the sudden lump in her throat.
"Yes." Her fingers instinctively gripped the receiver tighter.
"Mrs. Woods, this is Ted Myers from San Francisco General Hospital. I am sorry to inform you, but there's been an accident ..."
A scream welled deep inside, but Tracey's throat clamped shut. All that came out was a rasping breath, as if she were being strangled. And when she heard the nurse's voice again she screamed, dropped the phone and slid against the wall.
"Tracey, what is it?" John yelled from the living room.
A thick glaze covered her eyes, but Tracey could still see her brother-in-law rushing toward her, followed by the rest of those gathered for the party. The laughter that filled the house only moments before was replaced with questioning Screams.
"Tracey, what's wrong?" Robin asked, moving toward her sister.
"Has something happened to my father?" Janet asked.
"What is going on?" her brother-in-law asked.
John picked up the cordless phone and spoke into it, while Robin and Aunt Flora helped Tracey stand. The quiet was broken only by John's staccato utterances.
After several eternal minutes, John slowly dropped the phone into the cradle and turned toward the others.
"Donald is still in San Francisco. He was in a car accident and he's unconscious. It sounds serious" he choked out the words, looking at Mildred as she began to scream. Janet grabbed her, and they both cried, holding on to each other.
"I've got to get to San Francisco right away," Tracey cried. "Robin, call the airport and make reservations for the first flight out, please." She started to take a step but her legs were weak.
"John, help her up the stairs," Robin said, holding the phone in her hand. Mildred, Janet, and Flora went back to the living room and waited. No one thought of dinner.
While Tracey was upstairs changing, Robin was making reservations for three, including Janet. They decided that Mildred would stay in Los Angeles. As upset as they were, no one wanted Mildred's high blood pressure to flare up again.
"I'm going with you, Tracey. I made reservations for Janet, too" Robin said.
"Thanks" Tracey turned to face Robin. "The nurse said that a Miss Howard was with him. Maybe she was taking him to the airport"
While slipping into a pair of slacks and matching sweater she felt a chill come up her back and frowned. "Damn, it's cold for the month of June?" She trembled, and was colder than she could ever remember.
When Tracey and Robin came downstairs everyone was sitting in the living room with their coats on. The room was silent, and everyone looked at her as she walked in.
"Tracey, did the doctor say how bad Donald's condition was? Is he dying?" Mildred cried. "He's my only son. Oh Lord, don't let him die"
Flora sat on the couch next to Mildred. "Honey, don't say things like that. As soon as he knows that Tracey and Janet are there, he'll be all right." Flora looked at Tracey. "We should all leave. But you call us as soon as you see him, Tracey."
"I will, Aunt Flo," Tracey said, with a sudden electric tingle of fear running down her spine. "Mildred, try not to worry too much. We'll call you" She wondered what condition she would find her husband in.
Everyone rushed out of the door at the same time and Tracey, Robin and Janet left in a taxi headed for the Los Angeles Airport. Tracey cried the entire ride. Now feeling a terrible pain in her right temple she laid her head back on the car seat and closed her eyes. Robin was trying to console her and held her hand. Janet was quiet when they arrived at the airport and during the flight. Tracey could imagine how painful it must be for her, too, and took her hand.
"Tracey, I wonder if he's dead," Janet cried.
"Of course not. Your father will never leave us. I just wish that I was with him. We have to believe that he'll be all right," she said and wiped her eyes. She knew that she had to stop crying and be strong for Janet. But she was just as afraid as Janet was, and it seemed like they had been in the air for hours as Tracey looked at her watch.
On the plane, a man sitting in front of them overheard their conversation. He turned and looked at them, but he didn't say anything.
When the plane landed, they got off and rushed through the airport. All three, looking straight ahead, ran down the escalators into the streets to flag a taxi.
Robin and Janet each held one of Tracey's hands as they rode to the hospital. No one spoke.
When they walked into the emergency room they went straight to the nurses' station to ask where they could find Donald Woods. Tracey was so upset, she didn't even read the nurse's badge.
"Is my husband conscious?"
"Just wait here, I'll get the doctor." But as she started to walk away, Tracey grabbed the nurse's arm.
"Please, tell me if he's conscious. I have to know." She looked to see if she saw any doctors around who could tell her. She needed an answer, now. Janet and Robin stood next to her, each holding her arm to support her.
"I'm sorry, you'll have to talk to Dr. Stone. Wait right here and I'll get him." The nurse walked off leaving them pacing in front of the counter.
"Where is the doctor?" Janet asked impatiently.
They looked at each other as the doctor walked toward them. He looked grimy and tired.
"Yes, I'm Mrs. Woods. Will you take me to my husband?" Tracey asked apprehensively, afraid of what she might hear. "He needs me with him"
The doctor looked at Robin and Janet. "Are they family, too?" he asked.
"Yes, this is my husband's daughter and my sister"
The doctor nodded. "I think all of you should come along." Tracey's heart felt as if it was closing. She held Janet's hand tightly and said a prayer to herself as they walked down the busy hall.
They followed the doctor into the room. There were three nurses and another doctor standing around the bed. The room was warm, too warm, and too much light and the smell of medicine made Tracey nauseous. She opened her hands, and closed them again. They were moist and shaky, and she felt beads of sweat on her forehead. One nurse had a pen and pad in her hand, taking notes. Tracey wrinkled her nose as she noticed another smell. What was that smell? It smelled like-like blood. Suddenly Tracey's eyes fell upon Donald's body.
"The time of death is nine-thirty P.M.," the doctor said.
She was so grief-stricken, bereft of words, suffering the death of her husband, that she was hardly aware of what was going on around her. She closed her eyes against the dull ache that she still felt in her head, feeling a knot in her stomach. This wasn't really happening. How could her life change so in one day? One minute she was looking forward to celebrating her anniversary and the next she was staring at her husband's corpse. This was a nightmare. She looked from one doctor to the other, searching for an answer, but there wasn't one. Her breathing was shallow, as her chest constricted.
"I want to stay with my husband, touch him, and be near him." But when she started toward his bed where he lay covered with blood, she stopped as if she couldn't move.
A nurse walked toward Tracey and held her hand, leading her away from the bed. She felt sorry for her. Tracey was so distraught, so frightened. She felt numb. She couldn't believe she had lost her husband. This couldn't be happening to her.
Janet looked as though she was in shock, never saying a word, not crying, just looking straight ahead as Robin led both of them out of the room. All three stopped as Tracey cried out.
"Why, why? Oh God, why my husband?" she cried, and leaned against the wall.
Robin put her arms around Tracey and Janet. "Let's get out of here."
Excerpted from JUNE IN WINTER by Patricia Anne Phillips Copyright © 2003 by Patricia Anne Phillips
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.