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"Good morning, Doctor, may I help you with something?" Theresa, the young unit clerk at the nurses' station, chirped hopefully as she got to her feet, only to be ignored by Dr. Gorgeous, which is what most of the female hospital staff called the cardiac surgeon when he wasn't within earshot.
And with pretty good reason, too. Sam McCormack might be in his fifties, but he was one of those men who, instead of getting older, just seemed to get better. Like George Clooney, Theresa had told her agreeing friends in the lunchroom. Except that Dr. McCormack had light brown hair and he wore it sort of longish and shaggy, so that it often fell down over his drop-dead-sexy green eyes. He was tall, but not too tall, and his face was sort of lean and chiseled, and he sported a great tan, probably because he liked to run for exercise. The day Theresa had seen him jogging out of the hospital parking lot in his shorts and one of those sleeveless running shirts, she'd nearly run her compact car into a light post.
Sam McCormack reached past the clerk to grab a patient chart, only belatedly realizing that someone had spoken to him. "Oh, good morningTheresa, isn't it?"
"You remembered. Yes, that's me." The young woman breathed, all but melting back into her chair. "Theresa "
Sam shot the young woman a quick, curious look, and then dismissed her from his mind as he turned and headed down the corridor to the room of his patient and good friend, Bill Helms. Bill was six days post-op on an emergency multiple bypass surgery. Sam was here to spring him, and send him home to his wife and grown kids.
He only needed to see the results of Bill's latest tests and confirm that he was no longer running a low-grade fever. Nope, he was good to go.
Sam was still paging through the chart when he turned into Room 4-34B, where his college buddy was pushing some hospital-issue oatmeal around his plate.
"Wow, would you look at the puss on you," Bill said as Sam pulled up a straight-back chair and straddled it. "Let me guess. You're about to tell me you sewed up my heart inside out, and you have to open me up again."
Sam grinned, sensing that his friend's joke was only halfway jovial; Bill had been an apprehensive patient. Then again, it could be a little unnerving to anyone to wake at two in the morning feeling as if somebody had just parked their truck on your chest. "Yup, you nailed it. Not the inside-out part, but I haven't been able to find my Penn State ring since your surgery, so."
"Very funny. I'll give you mine and keep yours. No, seriously, I can really go home today?"
"Unless you're addicted to hospital food and beg me to stay, yes," Sam informed him. "Patients recover better at home, I'm ashamed to say, and I know Janie will take good care of you."
Bill pulled a comical face. "She told me she spent yesterday cleaning out the pantry and fridge, tossing all my favorite foods in the garbage. No more potato chips, no more eggs and scrapple for breakfast, no more ice cream, no more beer. That was cruel, Sam. Did you really tell her no more beer?"
"I might have suggested you cut back," Sam admitted. "Everything in moderation, Bill, that's the key. That, and exercise. Janie told me she bought you a treadmill."
Bill snorted. "Yeah, she told me. I think it's payback for me having bought her that rug shampooer last year for Christmas." He went quiet for a few moments, and then said softly, "Thanks, Sam. You saved my life. I've got a second chance now, and I promise you, I'm not going to blow it." Bill paused for a second. "Sam? You sort of winced there for a sec. What did I say?"
Sam ran a hand through his hair, pushing it away from his forehead; he needed a haircut, he thought randomly. Sometimes it seemed like he always needed a haircut. But he was so busy, on his own perpetual treadmill.
"Nothing," he said, sighing, and then shook his head. "No, not nothing. You said second chance, and I guess it struck a nerve. You have a minute, Bill?"
"Until you sign those release papers, my time is your time," his old friend said. "Come on, you're obviously upset about something. Maybe I can help. And if I can't, at least I can listen. I may not be a whiz in the operating room, but as a psychologist, I don't think I'm too shabby."
Sam grinned. "A child psychologist," he reminded Bill.
"You say potato, I saycome on, Sam. Spill your guts."
"Great bedside manner you've got going there," Sam said, and got to his feet to walk over to the window. He'd do better with his back turned to his friend, and no, he didn't want to know what Bill the psychologist would read into that particular body language. "You remember Tory?"
"Tory," Bill said ruminatively. "I don't know that Iwait. Tory? Victoria Fuller? Oh, wow, flashback city. Our senior year at State. You'd moved out of the frat house and in with Tory. Lucky devil, she was really something else. I thought you guys were going to make a go of it. And then you two broke up, right? She left Happy Valley, never graduated? That was kind of weird, seeing as how we were less than a semester away. So.Tory Fuller. What about her?"
This was going to be difficult. Sam's life, so ordered and serene, had been busy, yes, but not difficult. He had his work, a small circle of good friends, a new condo not far from the hospital and his office. Everything neat, orderly. If something was missing in his life, he hadn't known it. Or at least he'd never been able to put a name to the feeling that sometimes came over him, a feeling that there should be more to life than professional success.
"Her uh her daughter called me a couple of weeks ago," he said at last, his gaze still on the air conditioner units lined up on the flat roof two stories below Bill's window.
"Okay," Bill said slowly. "And?"
Sam turned around to face his friend. "And she said she was pretty sure she's my daughter, too."
Bill leaned back against his raised hospital bed, holding a heart-shaped pillow to his chest as he rubbed at the stubble on his chin. "She said that, did she? And how do you feel about that, Sam?"
"Oh, come on, Bill, don't hand me that shrink talk. How the hell do you think I feel?"
"Well, it could go a number of ways. Surprised. Shocked. Skeptical. Betrayed. Angryno, scratch angry. Incensed. Cheated. Excited. And there's always the ever-popular scared out of your gourd."
"How about all of the above?" Sam sat down on the side of the bed. "Alliethat's Tory's daughterasked if I'd take a DNA test, and I agreed. She mailed me her sample and I took care of the rest here at the hospital lab. I got the results yesterday."
"And let's say we can eliminate skeptical from your list of my possible reactions. She's my daughter. I have a daughter. A thirty-two-year-old daughter, Bill. Me. More than that, I'm a grandfather. Three times over."
"Oh, the nurses out there aren't going to be happy to hear that one, Dr. Gorgeous. A grandfather?"
Sam got to his feet once more. "I'm so glad I could count on my friend to be sensitive about this."
"Ah, come on, somebody has to step back a little, see the whole picture. You probably aren't, at least not yet. And what about Tory? Is that why she took off? You didn't want her to have the baby?"
"I didn't know there was going to be a baby," Sam said, once again nearly overcome by an avalanche of emotions he couldn't name. He just knew they were painfula mixture of shock and anger and inexplicable joy that had had him going in circles for weeks, not just since the results of the DNA testing was in. "She just took off, Bill. One day she was there, and the next day I came home from class and she was gone. Her books, her clothesjust gone. Why? I mean, I didn't deserve that. Why didn't she tell me? It was my baby, too."
"All good questions, Sam. Unfortunately, I don't have the answers. But we both know who does. Did this Allieyour daughtertell you anything?"
Sam shook his head. "No, not really. She just told me that she was fooling around on the internet one day and read something that caught her eye, and that one thing led to another, and another, until she managed to locate Tory's family." He looked at his friend. "Tory was adopted. I didn't know that, either. I lived with the woman for nearly a year, and I didn't know that. I'm not proud of that, by the way. Clearly I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have been."
Bill shrugged, and then winced as the movement clearly wasn't yet comfortable. "We were young, all of us. Carrying heavy course loads, working part-time to help with expenses. If we weren't in class we were studying, working or sleeping. Or, in your and Tory's case, making babies. Sorry, poor attempt at humor. How did Allie go from finding Tory's family to finding you?"
"She admitted to some guesswork there. She knew her mother had attended Penn State, but since Tory didn't graduate, it was a little tricky pinning down the years. Did you know there are old real estate and rental records on the internet? Honest to God, Bill, it's like the world has nothing else to do but upload a bunch of useless information. Anyway, Tory and I had both signed the lease to that apartment over the pizza shop. After that, it was plugging my name into a search engine, and some simple math. And the DNA test. I guess I should be proud of her ingenuity."
"Do you know where she is?"
"Allie? Yes, she and her husband live in South Carolina. With my grandchildren."
"That last part really gets to you, doesn't it, Grandpa? Janie and I are still pushing our boys to get married, so we can have grandkids. But, no, I meant Tory. Do you know where she is?"
Sam nodded. "Allie also found Tory's sister, and Tory's visiting her now in Cape May, although Tory lives in San Francisco. I've got the address of the beach house. I want to see Allie, of course. And her children. But I don't know about Tory. I don't know what to say to her. I'm curious, but I'm also so damn angry."
"I remember how you were when Tory took off. You really loved her, Sam. You even married a woman who physically reminded me of Tory, not that the marriage stuck. You've been alone for a long time."
"Are you speaking now as my friend or my shrink?"
"Both," Bill said solemnly. "One, my patient needs closure. He's been waiting for it, consciously or subconsciously, for over thirty years. And two, I'd like to see my friend happy. If there's a chance of that, why not take it?"
"Go see her, you mean. I don't know, Bill. I've got every right to be madder than hell at her, except that I keep wondering if it was something I did, or said, or didn't do, didn't say, that made her believe it would be better I didn't know she was pregnant. Maybe I was selfish and shallow, and she didn't think I'd make a good father. And maybe she was right. Maybe I don't want to know what happened to us all those years ago."
"Okay, tough love here, buddy. Maybe you shouldn't be so worried about your feelings, and start thinking about Tory. She's the one who gave up college months before graduation and raised a kid on her own. None of that could have been easy for her. You loved her once, right? Or was she just convenient?"
"I loved her," Sam said quietly. And then he added, "I think I loved her. I hope I loved her."
"All right, that's a start. Be honest with your feelings. You two were young, probably confused. God knows when I thought back to what I was like during my college years it was all I could do to let my boys go off on their own when their time came. Look, you said she's in Cape May. We're here, in Philly. So she's just a quick drive down the Atlantic City Expressway. You have the address, and you probably need a vacation anyway. You own the practice and have plenty of backupgood surgeons, all of them. I've pretty much met them all since I got here. The world won't end if you take a couple of days off. Go. See. Talk. Don't judge her, or start kicking yourself, until you know her side."
"And then report back to you?" Sam asked, summoning a weak smile.
"Oh, you'd better believe it, bucko. This is better than a made-for-TV movie." Bill reached out and squeezed Sam's shoulder. "All kidding aside, and you know I was only trying to lighten the mood a little here, but we usually only go around once, Sam. Sounds to me like both of us may have just been handed a second chance. I know I can't speak for you, but I really don't think either of us can afford to blow it."
Tory closed her cell phone and slipped it back in her skirt pocket as she made her way to the lounge chair on the balcony just outside her bedroom, sitting down with a near thump. Quickly, before her legs collapsed from under her.
He knows. Sam knows.
"Oh, Allie." Tory said, burying her head in her hands.
She could get a flight to South Carolina, mend fences with her daughter, if that was possible. Allie had been remarkably mature for someone who'd just found out her natural father was alive, and not just some nameless college boy her mother couldn't remember. She'd said she didn't hate Tory for the lies. But the hurt had been in her voice, coloring her joy at having spoken with her father.
Or she could fly back to San Francisco, tonight, and try to forget anything had happened at all. Tory knew she was good at that. Running away. She'd done it enough.