Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Writing Wdnesday "Blank Slate" Chapter 4-6

Every week I'm going to post a segment from one of my books here on my blog. You can read the first three chapters to this story here.

Chapter Four

d

Later that evening Adrianna woke from a nap to find Jake, quiet and looking tired, sitting beside her bed. He worked on a laptop, not seeming to notice her movements. She watched him for a minute and decided he wasn’t typing. She couldn’t see the screen, but from the way his fingers moved on the touch mouse, she thought he might be playing a game.

“Are you winning?” she asked, then touched her throat when soreness reminded her to take it easy.

He jumped slightly and looked a bit abashed as he closed the computer. “I thought I could work on some bids while you slept . . . and got distracted by Solitaire.”

She smiled. “Having trouble focusing on work?”

“Quite a lot of trouble, just lately. How do you feel?” He reached out and pushed the hair out of her eyes. “I have to say, you’ve looked better.”

“Gee, thanks. I’m all aflutter from your compliments.”

He laughed. “I can’t tell you how good it is to have you awake again. You had us all pretty worried for a while there.”

“I’m glad your concerns are all gone now,” she said as she turned and looked pointedly at the bank of monitors that were still attached to her. “Brock mentioned you were supposed to stop by tonight. He said you’ve been here a lot, actually. The staff mentioned it too. Thanks for that.”

“I couldn’t stay away.” He squeezed her hand. “How’re you feeling now? Do you need more pain killers, a drink, anything?”

“I could use a little water.”

She watched him fill the glass from a pitcher of water on the table beside her and hand it over. She took several sips and felt her throat soothed by it. When she put the glass down, he watched her anxiously.

“I think there was a woman here when I first woke. I’m kind of fuzzy. Dark hair, pixie cut, cute, reprimanded me for sleeping so long. Was that a dream, or do I have a fairy godmother?”

He laughed. “That’s my wife, Megan. She was here when you first woke, but we weren’t sure if you’d remember her. You were pretty out of it. I’ll tell her you asked. She’s been pretty busy finishing her degree and juggling things at home, but she’s been here part of every day since your accident.”

A long silence stretched between them, though Adrianna didn’t find it uncomfortable. When she spoke, she brought up the subject that had been foremost on her mind. “Can you tell me about the accident, about the others involved? The doctor didn’t say much and I wondered what you know. I just can’t stop thinking about the others and wondering what happened. I asked Brock, but he didn’t want to discuss it.”

“He was pretty upset. We all were, of course, but I think it made him a little crazy—he worships the ground you walk on.” He rubbed his chin. “It was really hard watching you lie there, not moving, knowing you might never wake up. I think that’s why he returned to Chicago after only a few days. It was too hard to watch. Now we’re just happy you’re recovering and don’t want to think about why you’re here.”

Adrianna wondered if that meant he wasn’t going to tell her about the accident, but he shifted in his seat and began talking again.

“Far as we can tell from reports, an SUV hydro-planed on the north-bound road, hit the edge of the pavement and began to roll. It hit the bus right where your seat was. The roads were slick and the driver tried to maneuver out of the way of the SUV, but it knocked over the bus, which slid down the road a few feet until friction brought it to a stop on the wet pavement. Your hair got caught under the frame just before it came to a stop. You were lucky; if it had traveled much farther you could have been crushed.” His voice broke and he paused for a moment to gather control again.

She reached out a comforting hand to him, seeing the emotion on his face. After a moment, however, she withdrew her hand, uncomfortable. She was relieved when he pulled himself back together.

“You got pummeled with baggage and other people as the bus rolled. It sounds like there was total chaos. The emergency people arrived and you were transported to the hospital here. I guess a couple of women sitting near you were killed in the accident, as well as the couple in the SUV. Most everyone ended up in an emergency room somewhere for a while at least. A few women had to stay in the hospital overnight, or for a few days, but I think you’re the only one who hasn’t been released. There were so many injuries that the women were sent to at least six different hospitals in the region.”

Adrianna thought about that, imagined the scene in her head, though she couldn’t remember even a hint of that night. “It must have been so terrible for everyone. What a shock.” She tried to remember it, but came up blank.

“It was. We’ve had lots of support, though, from friends and neighbors. And, of course, there’s been lots of extra press about your involvement because you’re such a big-shot musician—which means the phone has been ringing almost constantly from people you know from France and Germany and wherever else.” He bumped his fist against her arm and shot her a wry smile. “We left you the get-well cards, but had to take the flowers home since they don’t allow them in the ICU. We donated a bunch to nursing homes and women’s shelters, but the house is still like a flower shop. Oh, and the mail is stacking up. It’ll take you a while to dig through. Everyone’s so happy to have you back with us again.”

Adrianna studied him for a long moment. “And you’ve been hiding from the press, haven’t you?” She didn’t know why she thought that, but he didn’t seem comfortable with media attention—which made two of them.

“Reporters are your forte, not mine. Mom and Brock have both been handling that though, so Megan and I have referred everyone to them. I don’t care what the world thinks or wants to know, I’m just worried about you.”

Adrianna asked him about work, needing a change of subject. He’d given her plenty to think about when she was alone again.

d

The mid-point of October passed before Adrianna was released from the ICU into a regular hospital bed.

The woman who’d been in her room when she first awoke, her sister-in-law Megan, Adrianna reminded herself, popped into the room only an hour after the room change. “Hi, I hoped you’d be awake. There’s so much to talk about. I stopped in yesterday for a while, but you were sleeping.”

Megan carried a large binder under one arm and a clear plastic container of cookies. “Jake said you asked who I am,” she continued without pausing for a response, her dark, pixie-cut hair flaring around her face. “I wasn’t sure if you remembered waking up with me in the room, so I’m glad you did. You seemed a bit out of it.”

“I remember, vaguely. You got after me for making everyone worry.” It was kind of funny—it wasn’t as if she’d had any control over the coma.

“Yes, well, you always did like to make an entrance.” Megan pulled a chair next to the bed and settled the photo album on the rolling cart the nurses set meals on. “I imagine you’ll want to look at some pictures of before—you know, they might jog your memory. And even if they don’t, it doesn’t hurt to learn more about yourself, does it?” She popped open the container of cookies—chocolate chip. Adrianna watched as Megan picked out a cookie, then gestured to the container, as though to say she should help herself.

“You’re lucky to have a private room. When my mom had her hysterectomy a few years back, she got stuck with a crazy lady who made a fuss around the clock and had to be restrained.” She took a dainty bite. “As for our friendship, I haven’t exactly known you forever, but we’ve spent quite a bit of time together. I mean, I’d always wanted a sister, and you’ve lived with us for over a year now. Thankfully we bypassed that awkward teenage angst most sisters endure, so we’ve gotten along well enough.”

“Why am I living with you and Jake?” That didn’t seem like something she would do. She felt a little too independent for that.

“You moved in shortly after I had Aiden. He’s our little boy and a bundle of crazy energy. I was still in school—am still in school—studying interior design and you moved in to help us out. I admit I wasn’t sure how it would work out at first, two cooks in the kitchen and all that. We settled in real nice though, found a rhythm right off. And can I say how much I appreciated having you around to help out? Seriously, you’re a life saver.”

Megan took another bite of cookie and closed her eyes as she chewed, ecstasy filling her face. “These are so good! I’m definitely keeping this recipe,” she used a hand to cover her mouth since it was full. “Anyway, your parents were here for several days after the accident, but they couldn’t run the business from Kansas, so they went home last week. Your dad practically had to pry your mom away with a crow bar. I spoke to them yesterday and they said they’ll be back tomorrow to visit for a few days. They were frantic when they heard about the accident. You’re mom’s a serious fuss pot.”

In all of Adrianna’s discussions with people, no one had made more than a fleeting reference to her parents. Even Jake had avoided the subject. “Where do they live now? Where did I grow up?”

“They’ve lived in Alliance, Nebraska for several years, but you grew up in Kansas City. Alliance is in the northwest corner, so it’s a good ten-hour drive. We all went up for a visit just a couple months ago so your parents could see Aiden.” Megan bit her lip, as if undecided about something, then nodded. “Things have been somewhat strained between you and your mom since you moved in with us. They’re kind of distant with us, too.” She studied her cookie for a moment before taking a bite. “She never approved of me.”

“Why not? Do you have a criminal record? Do you have a not-so-secret life as a cocktail waitress?”

Megan’s laugh exploded with surprise and she choked on her cookie. “No, give me a break!” She coughed a few times, trying to clear her throat.

“Trying to keep you secrets quiet?” There was little chance the demure Megan ever did anything half so wild, but her reaction had been priceless.

“Okay, seriously.” Megan helped herself to some of the water from the pitcher at the side of the bed, sipped. “I’m not sure what it is. On the one hand, I think she blames me for not making a name for myself professionally before starting my family, like she thinks Jake deserves someone with more ambition. On the flip side, she seems to think I’m a terrible, neglectful mother because I send Aiden to the sitter while I’m in school. Oh, and she thinks you’re not touring right now because you moved in with us because I’m too incapable to take proper care of her son and grandbaby, so you’re wasting your potential.” The words held more than a tinge of bitterness.

Megan tapped a finger on the photo album for a moment, then lifted her gaze back to Adrianna’s. “I know our visit this summer helped smooth out the rough edges some, so I wouldn’t be concerned about it if I were you.”

She opened the binder and pointed to a picture of a blonde woman in a 50’s costume. “Your sister, Natasha, lives in New York City, where she’s trying to break into Broadway. This picture was of her in Bye, Bye Birdie. She has your singing talent, and acts and dances too, though I don’t think she can play the piano worth spit compared to you.” She sighed. “Unfortunately, your mom agrees and always made a big issue about your skill, and didn’t give Natasha enough credit. She’s quite talented, just not as impressive as you in that one area.”

She looked a bit wistful as she broke her cookie in two pieces. “I wish I’d gotten some of those skills—we could use more people to play the music in church. Brother Lawrence does a reasonably decent job with the five hymns he knows, but no one compares to you. It’s been interesting the past few weekends with you in here.”

“I’m sure you have plenty of your own talents.”

With a tip of the head and a frown, Megan nodded. “Such as they are. Jake seems to love me in any case.” She turned to the photo album. “Now, here are pictures of everyone from your engagement party—Brock insisted on making it a major event and all of the musicians attended, along with the best patrons of the arts and community leaders.” Dismissing the previous subject, she told Adrianna about everyone.


Chapter Five

d

Adrianna looked up from the scrapbook later that afternoon when Brock came in carrying a white paper bag and two Styrofoam cups.

“I come bringing something decent to drink. I’m sure you’re more than ready.” He set the offerings on the side table and kissed her on the now unwrapped bit of skin at her temple. Her bandages had been reduced the previous day as her skin continued to heal. He handed her a cup bearing the name of a trendy coffee shop he’d mentioned the previous day.

“I added extra milk to your hot cocoa and a shot of amaretto just the way you like it, and,” he dug into the bag and pulled out two cupcakes. “Orange-cardamom with cream cheese frosting. Your favorite.” He set the confection on a napkin in front of her. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a pink MP3 player with matching ear buds. “And music to go along with it.

“Actually,” he said as he took the chair beside her and scooted it closer to the bed, not giving her time to respond, “the music is for you to listen to later. I wanted your take on the lineup I’m considering for next April’s concert. We’re going with all Baroque composers. It’ll be fantastic. I’m just not sure which Scarlatti cantata to feature, but you’re always brilliant and I’d like to hear what you think.”

A bit bemused, Adrianna took a sip of the cocoa and wanted to moan with appreciation. The man obviously knew what she liked. “I’ll be happy to listen, but I’m sure you’ll make the right decision.” Interested in the cupcake he had brought, she unwrapped one side and took a large bite with plenty of frosting. It was good. Not nearly as good as the cocoa, and, in fact, she eyed his German chocolate cupcake enviously, but didn’t complain as she finished off the one he had brought her.

“Do you remember going to the bakery with me?” he asked her after she took a second bite. “I know they’re your favorite.”

She shrugged, not a glimmer of memory coming to her.

“Don’t worry, I’ll help you.” He ran a hand down her arm. “I know everything about you, babe.”

Adrianna smiled as well as she could around the mouthful of cupcake and nodded, listening closely as he changed the subject to music.

d

When she was allowed out of bed that evening to visit the bathroom—finally not being forced to rely on a tube and bag—Adrianna spent several minutes in front of the mirror comparing her features to the ones in the pictures—what she could see of it around the bandages that still swathed her nose and cheeks.

Her face was puffy and red and still crossed with rows of stitches, even though it had been two weeks since the accident. She wondered how everyone must have felt watching her, unsure if she would wake from the coma, seeing her battered body slowly healing.

It scared her to look at the unrecognizable face in the mirror even now when the swelling had gone down so much. The stitched areas of her face were slightly puckered in a couple of spots. It was terrifying and disheartening. She was ugly. Would it get much better?

Beyond that, how could she look at herself and not know her own face? She had viewed smiling pictures of growing up and at a party, hand in hand with Brock, kissing him, holding Aiden on the day he was blessed, but none of them were familiar. There wasn’t the faintest memory from her past. She was so discouraged by the lack of memories, and looking like this didn’t help her feel better about it all.

Tears welled in her eyes and she prayed it really would get better, that the plastic surgeon would be able to make her look a whole lot less scary.

She touched the lines of stitches on her forehead and wondered if she’d ever remember her life.

d

When Adrianna returned to her room, Jake sat in the chair beside her bed. “You’re up and out of bed. It’s good to see you looking so well.” He walked over and touched her arm.

Adrianna thought she looked awful, but she wasn’t about to correct him. “Finish with work for the day?” She lowered herself carefully onto the bed. Her whole body was exhausted from the effort of walking to the bathroom. Her previous forays had all been with a nurse at her side. It was amazing how much harder it was by herself. Megan’s vivacity had been tiring as well, though Adrianna thought her sister-in-law would be a lot of fun when her energy level was back to normal.

“Yeah, Gavin’s still covering for me. He’s been shouldering most of the load lately.” He grimaced a bit at that as he sat in the chair beside her bed. “Tomorrow I’m going to bring Aiden to see you—or Mom and Dad will if they get here early enough. He’s over his cold, so the doctor said it’s safe.”

He looked so excited at the prospect of bringing his child to see her, she didn’t want to disappoint him, but she thought of the toddler reacting to what she’d just seen in the mirror. “I’m not sure if that’s a good idea. I mean, look at me.” She gestured to her face. “I’ll probably scare him.” She tried to make a joke of the comment, but couldn’t quite manage it.

Jake reached out and squeezed her shoulder. “No you won’t. We told him you were hurt, and he’ll know you. He’s missed you so much. He’s been asking about you every day—you’re his favorite aunt.”

“I’m the only aunt he sees regularly,” she reminded him. Despite her words, she smiled and thought of holding the sweet-faced toddler she’d seen in so many pictures over the past few days. “I can’t wait to meet him.” She paused when she saw a pained look cross his face. “I mean, I know I’ve spent plenty of time with him before, but it’s like meeting him all over again. You know?”

Jake smiled weakly. “I suppose it must be. Hey, I brought this back. They said you were clutching it when they found you at the crash site. I thought you might like to have the pictures with you, and your ID in case you forget who you are again.” He said this last with a half-hearted laugh. He handed over a brown leather wallet with her identification and several family pictures in it. She turned it over in her hands. It seemed vaguely familiar. Then again, it was her wallet.

“Thanks, I’ve worried about that.” She rolled her eyes at him. “It seems to be habit for me to forget myself lately.” She flipped through the wallet and saw snapshots of several people she didn’t recognize, then one of Brock and herself in front of a waterfall. One of Jake’s family was filed beside it. She had a memory flash—she had seen these pictures before, she was sure of it. That fact relieved her immensely. “Oh, look, there are pictures of everyone in here. We should mark them with names so if I forget you again, I can flip through and see you’re my brother.”

They shared weak smiles before he changed the subject. “Megan said she’d bring the photo album after her classes today. Did she make it?”

“Yes, we spent a couple hours talking while she told me every embarrassing story she knew about you.” At his mortified expression, she laughed. “I’ve wondered if she embellished them a bit. Seriously, how could you think fishing and prom dresses were a good mix?”

“I can’t believe she told you.” He ran a hand over his tired face. “It’s bad enough to be teased about things by one woman without bringing another into the mix. If you have to lose memories, that would be one of the things I’d prefer stayed forgotten. By everyone.”

She laughed, low and throaty. “Don’t worry about it, Jake. It was good for me to see you aren’t this infallible man of steel. I’ve heard so many times about how often you’ve been here, what a devoted brother you’ve been. It’s almost intimidating. How’s a sister supposed to keep up?”

Taking her hand in his, he gave it a squeeze. “How could I possibly do less? You’ve been there for us through so much.” Love shone in his eyes, making Adrianna wish she had any memory of him at all—even an embarrassing one of herself. She saw him glance around the room. “So, where’s Brock?”

“He was here this morning, but he had errands to run, orchestra things to do, people to talk to. I get the feeling he’ll be convincing a lot of musicians to keep me company when he’s gone again. It’ll be a parade of strangers filing through here—and if he has his way, they’ll all bring their instruments.” She was trying not to be bothered by this idea, but she’d rather not be constantly surrounded by new people. It was hard enough dealing with the handful she’d met.

Adrianna picked up the tiny MP3 player Brock had given her. “He brought me some recordings of songs he wants to do in the spring. He asked me to listen and give my opinion on them when he calls tomorrow.” She pulled a face. Brock had spent quite a bit of time with her over the past couple of days, but needed to return to Chicago to direct a big performance.

“What’s the problem? So you’ll help him pick some classical songs, probably play a solo. You’ve always been incredible on the piano—it’s not like it’ll be anything new. The doctor’s hopeful you’ll have your memory back by then. It’s a long while off yet.”

“Brock said we were doing Baroque composers, not classical ones. Apparently there’s a difference. I recognize a few of the songs, as in, I think I probably heard them somewhere once before, but I’m not ready to discuss composers or the relative merit of one song over another.”

She shook her head and semi-reclined on the bed. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been so irritated with Brock, she thought, but it was disorienting to have people tell you that you should know something and not to remember anything about it.

“How’re things going with Brock, anyway?”

She shrugged. “He’s very charming and friendly, but nothing he says sparks a memory.” When Jake nodded, but didn’t comment, she tipped her head in question. “What do you think of him?”

Jake shoved his hands in his front pockets. “He’s a nice guy. He’s always been good to you.” He didn’t meet her eyes.

“And?” She sensed there was more and wanted him to spit it out.

“It’s not like you won’t remember my feelings on the subject eventually.” He pressed his lips together for a moment. “He’s kind of arrogant, and talks down to the rest of us as if we were peons. I swear I heard him call us musical Philistines once when he had to educate us about some composer.” He met her gaze now. “You’ve teased us now and then, but you were never a snob about it. Except sometimes when you’re with him, you spend so much time trying to impress him, you seem to forget yourself.”

Adrianna bit her lip as she took that in, pain filling her chest as she considered his words. She didn’t want to be a snob, not to her family or anyone else. “I’m sorry. I’ll try not to let that happen anymore.”

“I can’t ask for more than that.” He gave her hand a squeeze.

She smile back at him, but wondered what kind of person she was. Did she really treat her family badly when Brock was around?

d

The next morning Adrianna sat in bed, wishing there was something besides talk shows on at ten in the morning, when a salt-and-pepper-haired woman came to the door. A vaguely familiar woman. When she grinned and entered with a giant of a man—also gray haired—and a toddler boy, Adrianna realized it was her parents and Aiden. The child, at least, was unmistakable.

“There’s an improvement, now. It’s good to see you, sweetie.” Her mother hurried over and wrapped her in a hug. She pressed a kiss to Adrianna’s temple.

Adrianna fought the urge to pull away, unsure what her response would normally be. She sure didn’t feel very friendly at the moment. She blamed it on the drugs that made her feel out of sorts and the stress she was under and tried not to take it out on her parents. “Hello, Mom, Dad. And this little bundle of energy,” she said, holding out her hands to the toddler who was crying and trying to reach her. “You must be Aiden. It’s good to see you, Aiden.” She tried not to act as befuddled as she felt.

Aiden clung to her, burying his tear-filled face in her neck, and something deep inside her felt an instant bond. She’d begun to worry when everything seemed so foreign to her—what if it was all some mistake, some cosmic joke? She cuddled him close, ignoring the discomfort she felt as her muscles protested. If all these people recognized her, she must be the person they said she was. She just wanted to slide into her old life and have something feel comfortable again.

“You do remember us, then?” her mother asked, her face full of hope.

With a shake of her head, Adrianna disillusioned her parents. “No, I knew you from the photo album Megan brought me yesterday.” She motioned to the table beside her bed. She’d looked through it again that morning. “She said you’d be in town today. You’re earlier than I expected. It’s a long trip from Nebraska.”

“We drove most of the way yesterday,” her mother said.

Her father sat uneasily in one of the visitor chairs. Her mother pulled another over by the bedside and began to fuss. “Are you comfortable? Maybe you shouldn’t have him on your lap—he might pull out a tube or something. Do you want something to drink? Juice, water, a soda?”

Already feeling weary, Adrianna shook her head. “No, thank you. I’m fine. Aiden’s fine too.”

Aiden patted her on the cheek in response, perhaps a little harder than necessary—even without the damage to her face. “Anna.” He yanked at the top of the bandage and she decided to redirect his attention. Her eyes watered from the pain, but she gritted her teeth and said nothing. She handed him her plastic water cup and he started crinkling it in his fingers. “Anna!”

He was delightful. “You sweet boy. Aren’t you just the cutest?”

“Down!” Aiden demanded, pointing to the ground.

“Want a cookie?” his grandmother asked when he struggled.

That perked him up. “Tookie, tookie, tookie!” He reached out with his chubby little hands to grasp the mini chocolate chip cookie.

“When do they take off the bandages?” her mother asked.

Adrianna wet her lips and smiled, though it took a great deal of determination to do so and she doubted it looked sincere. “The doctor said they plan more plastic surgery soon, now that I’m doing so well. They may not be able to put me back together again quite like I was, but it should be fine.”

She sent up a prayer every time she thought about it. She’d seen pictures of herself before and while she wasn’t movie-star gorgeous, she’d been pretty enough. She didn’t want to believe she was so vain she couldn’t live with scars. It would be a reminder she’d survived something horrible—an accident that took four lives. There must be a reason she’d lived when others had died.

Still, she prayed often that minor scarring was all she would have when it was over and done. Not wanting to dwell on that subject anymore, she turned to her father. “So, how’re things going at the store? I imagine it’s slowed somewhat, with the tourist season ending.”

Apparently, that had been the right question. The man who had yet to say one word began rhapsodizing over the items in their store, the way the season went, projections for the next year, and much more.

By the time he wound down, lunch was delivered and Aiden slept in her arms, clinging to the last gooey cookie with a plump fist. After she told her mother repeatedly that Aiden was fine, wasn’t hurting anything, and she could leave the child be, Adrianna finally allowed her mother to take him back.

“I know he’s been a trial for you, no matter how you dote on him, spoiling him rotten, but children always are a trial at this age. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s good you’re marrying Brock and getting away. In Chicago you won’t be a constant babysitter for her instead of using the talents you worked so hard to develop, especially after we paid so much money for your lessons.” Her face was disapproving, but Adrianna didn’t have the strength to ask why. “We got a hotel room in town, so we’ll see you this evening. Jake said his wife would stop by after class.”

Her mother’s apparent animosity for Megan—who had been nothing but sweet to Adrianna—didn’t make any sense. Her mom was a bundle of nervous, flighty energy, constantly trying to plump pillows or go for something, yet she didn’t like a woman who obviously loved and cared for her son. Not in the mood to figure it all out, Adrianna looked forward to a quiet lunch and then a long nap.


Chapter Six

d

Gavin didn’t mind carrying the extra load at work for a few weeks. Jake hadn’t complained once about taking over both their duties last spring when Gavin’s last living grandparent had lay dying in the hospital. And it had been busier then.

Of course, things weren’t exactly slow right now, but Gavin could endure this a little longer. Still, it would have been much easier if Tara had stuck around a few more weeks. He was grateful when Jake started picking up more of the slack, but knew it would take ages to get through all of the paperwork that was piling up.

What he couldn’t put up with was having Adrianna’s pompous fiancĂ© dropping by the office to send faxes and use the Internet. Brock seemed to care for Adrianna, and had a lot in common with her, both in musical skill and temperament. It was obvious he worried about her. However, that didn’t mean Gavin wanted to deal with him on a regular basis. He was relieved when Brock returned to Chicago to plot the symphony’s course of greatness.

“Hey, you’re headed into Kansas City to file that paperwork, aren’t you?” Jake asked, poking his head into Gavin’s office around eleven.

“Yeah, it should’ve been mailed in over a week ago. It was stuck in the wrong pile when Tara deserted.” This last was little more than a mumble as he sorted through a stack of papers on his desk. A lot of things had been left in disarray when Tara quit.

“Could you do me a favor? The sitter backed out on us and my parents said they’d watch Aiden this afternoon. Would you take him in to them at the hospital? I’d really appreciate it.”

“No problem.” So long as his exposure to Jake’s parents was minimal, he could deal with it.

Mrs. Mueller had never forgiven Gavin for suggesting her son work with him at his uncle’s construction company when they were fifteen. Jake had fallen instantly in love with the trade—much to his mother’s disgust. Gavin felt the mother’s disdain every time they met. Not that Gavin cared what she thought, but it did make their occasional encounters uncomfortable.

d

After two days and several long visits from her parents, Adrianna sat quietly in her room, grateful for the break from the chatter while her mother and father went out for lunch. She had completed her meal and wished she could be released from the hospital and return home. Not that she remembered her home, but it would make a nice change. At least then she wouldn’t have nurses waking her up at all hours of the night with the flimsiest excuses. She thought anyone going into nursing must have a sadistic streak.

In addition, there had been several visits by some old colleagues of hers from the symphony—people she didn’t recognize, of course. They’d held stilted discussions on topics she had remembered little to nothing about. It had been a wearing couple of days.

Adrianna clicked off the television, wondering if she had time for a short nap before her parents returned—if she feigned sleep when they arrived, would they leave again or sit quietly so she could rest?

She appreciated that they loved her and wanted to make her comfortable, but the constant questions from her mother about whether she needed something—water, snacks, a new book to read, a movie to break the monotony—was more than she could bear. She held her tongue, knowing her mother was just happy to have her alive and healing, but she needed a little room to breathe.

“Good, you’re up. We weren’t sure if you would be,” a male voice said from the doorway.

Adrianna looked up and saw a tall, sandy-haired man standing in the hall outside her door with Aiden in his arms. “Unless you’ve had some major plastic surgery and a hair color change overnight, you couldn’t be my brother. How’d you come across his boy there?” She smiled as Aiden turned to look at her.

“Anna, Gavgav.” Aiden clapped his hands.

“Gavgav?” Adrianna asked, recognizing him from the photo album, which still sat on a nearby table. She had studied it several times now. “As in, the amazing Gavin who’s picked up the slack at work?” His picture hadn’t done him justice, she thought as she took in the breadth of his shoulders, the raw-boned structure of his face which looked like it hadn’t seen a razor in a couple of days, and the hugeness of his hands as they gently cradled the toddler. She noticed his hands were not soft or manicured, then felt guilty and wondered why she cared. There was nothing wrong with a man being meticulous about his appearance.

“I’m not doing anything he wouldn’t have done in return. Or hasn’t done for me when I needed it.” The man tickled the little boy, then set him on the side of the bed. Aiden wrapped his arms around Adrianna in a hug.

“I appreciate it all the same.” She noticed a bag covered in ducks slung over one of Gavin’s shoulders. “Diaper bag?” she asked. She couldn’t help but be amused by the sight of this very virile male carrying a bag covered in cartoon birds.

“Oh, yeah.” He didn’t seem the least embarrassed to be toting around something so cutesy. She couldn’t see Brock doing that. Then again, she hardly knew Brock, maybe she was wrong. Her eyes returned to Gavin’s face when he spoke again. “Your parents were supposed to be here all afternoon. The babysitter had a family emergency, and I needed to run to town for the business, so I agreed to bring him along. Your mother said it wouldn’t be a problem.”

She watched Gavin, noticed how he seemed uncertain about her reaction. “It’s fine. I appreciate your willingness to bring Aiden. I don’t imagine you get a lot of practice pacifying a child on a car ride.”

“Uh, no. But he’s no trouble at all. I, uh, thought you might be getting sick of television, and I know you can’t play the piano here,” he chuckled lightly. “So I brought you a book. It’s in the side pocket.”

Taking her eyes from his face, she found the pocket and unzipped it, discovering a thin, ragged volume of Agatha Christie. She looked back at him, a little confused.

“I know books aren’t usually your thing, but she’s brilliant. I think you’ll be surprised.” He flushed, and that tinge of embarrassment only made him more appealing.

Adrianna looked at the book in her hands. She turned the pages and felt the old pages between her fingers. “Thank you.” She looked up and met his eyes.

Still, he seemed uncertain. He nodded. “There are several stories in there, they should keep you interested. Hercule Poirot is a great character.”

When he moved to draw away, she reached out and grabbed his wrist, then met his brown eyes. “Gavin, did we get along okay? Was it awkward like this before?” She wasn’t sure where she was getting the courage to ask him point blank. Something drew her to him, though. They must have been friends. She felt . . . something around him she didn’t notice with anyone else.

“No, it was fine.” He shrugged and averted his eyes.

“So why are you acting like you think I might bite?”

He smiled and visibly relaxed. “I know I’m a stranger to you now. I’m not sure where your boundaries are and don’t want to make you uncomfortable. You’ve been like a sister to me for years.”

Finally someone who doesn’t assume I’ll remember them when I didn’t remember anyone else. That fact alone made her more comfortable with him. “Then for heaven’s sake, please don’t treat me like I’m about to break. I have a mother for that.” She rolled her eyes and muttered, “And she does go on.”

He grinned and only took half a step back when she released his wrist. “Yes, she has for as long as I’ve known her. I ought to go as soon as your parents return, but Aiden has eaten plenty. Not that chicken nuggets and fries is exactly a healthy meal.”

“Better than M&Ms. If my parents don’t go home soon, I think my mom’ll have him converted strictly to chocolate and cookies.” She spoke low, almost conspiratorially.

It was lucky she had lowered her voice, she thought, as her parents rounded the corner into the room just then. “Oh, you’re here already. You can’t count on good child care anywhere these days, I swear. And heaven forbid, she miss one of her precious classes.” Her mother settled her hand on her hip as she spoke. “Gavin, see if you can cut Jake loose a little more often, would you? He has family responsibilities to see to.” She turned to Aiden. “And there’s my baby. Grandma has candy.” She pulled a package of M&Ms from her pocket and waved them in front of him.

Adrianna glanced at Gavin, who covered a smile with the wipe of his hand. “It was good seeing you again, Mrs. Mueller, Mr. Mueller. I better get going. Adrianna, I hope you continue to improve.” He waved and left.

Adrianna smiled as he left the room, then turned to her mother, half-wishing she could escape with Gavin and take the over-sugared toddler along.

The next three chapters of this story can be found here.

This book is available in ebook format on Smashwords, Kindle, and Nook, (for only $1.99) and will be available in paper copies on Amazon.com next week. If this segment interests you, come back for more next week!

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