“You haven’t really ever met her... the nurse is cleaning her up now—but I know she’ll want to meet you. Can you stick around for a bit?”
I hate to burst his bubble, hate to do anything to dampen the smile that stretches across his handsome face. Maybe I should wait. Let him enjoy her survival a little bit longer. But I don’t. I’m too much of a busybody—too much of a meddler to let this go. “You need to tell her, Paul. About you and Stewart.”
He scowls, the look instantly taking me back in time. Him, six years old, mad over a broken toy. Him, eleven years old, when I refused to let him surf in a storm. “Stewart’s gone. Why does it matter?”
“Stewart will never be gone, Paul. He’s your brother. She needs to know that—needs to have all the facts so that she understands the situation and makes the right decision.”
“Decision?” There is panic in his eyes for a moment. “I thought Stewart was stepping back. Letting her go. She loves me.”
“You can’t start a relationship with a secret. Let me talk to her. Explain everything. Allow her to come to grips with it.”
He leaned against the wall, his features tight. “I don’t want to lose her, D.”
I nod. “I know.”
“She’ll choose me, right?”
I meet his uncertain gaze. “I don’t know her, Paul. But I know you both. And Stewart isn’t at a place in his life where he can fully commit to a relationship. I’m sure she knows that.”
His face darkened. “I don’t want her to choose me because she can’t have him. I want her to choose me because I am who she wants. That’s what’s important, her happiness.”
I squeeze his arm. “Let me talk to her. The ‘brother’ thing is going to be a lot for her to take. Go get some breakfast.”
He doesn’t move, staring straight ahead, a lost look on his face, and I leave him there, my heels clicking on the linoleum floor, my mind sorting through how to break this news to a stranger.
The nurse pats my arm with a smile, her gray eyes warm and friendly. “I’ll be back in an hour to check on you. Page me if you feel any pain.”
“When can I go home?” My throat still is on fire, the words coming out scratchy and raw.
She wrinkled her brow. “Probably tomorrow, but the doc will have my hide if she knows I told you that. Let her tell you.”
“I feel fine now.” It’s a lie. My head is killing me, I feel bouts of nausea, and every breath feels like I’m rubbing sandpaper down my throat but I am ready to leave. I’ve only been conscious for an hour and I’m already sick of this place. I want my bed, the sound of waves and the smell of salt air. Paul’s arms around me, his breath on my skin, a warm mug of his lemon tea.
“We still need to monitor you for a while. You’ve pulled out strong, but with the brain... nothing is certain.” Her smile softens her words and she grabs my chart and heads for the door, maneuvering around someone as she exits. I look up, expecting Paul, and am surprised by the tall woman who enters, dressed in a black suit, her stern outfit out of place in this world of white. She moves confidently into the room, her eyes on mine, and extends an arm, my own raising out of habit, shaking her hand as I wonder who she is. An insurance rep? Hospital administrator? Her face is familiar and I study it, trying to place where I have seen her.
“I apologize for coming in so early, but I wanted to introduce myself. My name is Dana. I’m Paul’s sister.”
I blink at her, our hands still clasped, the handshake reaching an awkward length of time. She releases it and sits in the chair closest to the bed, my mind playing a frantic game of catch-up, ignoring her familiar features while trying to process her words. Sister?
I swallow painfully, my mind piecing together what I know from the little Paul has shared about his past. “Sister? I thought that...”
She grimaces, her expression pained. “You’re thinking of Jennifer. She passed away when Paul was a teenager.”
“A car accident.”
“Yes. I’m his older sister. I was at college when that happened. Paul probably hasn’t mentioned me—he cut all contact with the family when she died.”
I nod, a faint recollection of a second sister entering my head. Paul has always been so dismissive in discussing his family, the still-raw pain of his sister’s death causing some degree of anger, his reason for the separation from his family not given. It is the one area of his life we don’t discuss, the topic a touchy one that turns my cheerful love into a brooding, depressed man. Early in our relationship I pushed the issue, thinking he needed to talk about it. But it put him in such a dark place that, ever since then, I have avoided the subject.
“Is Paul aware that you’re here?” I ask carefully, trying to understand her presence.
“Yes, I was here last night,” She smiles, “We’ve reconnected, something I am grateful to you for.” Her face pales and she covers her mouth. “That sounds horrible—I didn’t mean—”
I wave her off with a weak smile. “I understood what you meant. I’m glad that you are on good terms again. Family is important.”
Her face stills and she squares her shoulders. “Yes. And that is why I wanted to speak to you. Alone, I mean.”
I tense, the look on her face, the stiffness of her body. Something is coming, from a stranger whose name Paul hasn’t even mentioned in the last two years. I suddenly wish I had pressed him harder over the reason for their strife.
She doesn’t mince words, or cushion the situation. “I am the oldest of three. Paul is my youngest brother. Stewart—your Stewart—is my other brother. Paul and Stewart have been estranged, but are brothers.”
I watch her eyes, note that they are brown, not the brilliant blue of my boys. My brain, still sluggish, wonders where the brown came from, if it was the paternal or maternal gene that produced that color. If Paul and my babies would be icy blue or chocolate brown-eyed. Her eyes sharpen, look at me critically, and I realize she is waiting for something. A reaction. I flip back through her words, piecing the sentences together, the structure unnecessarily complicated, the final words suddenly sharpening into focus, my brain comprehending the situation in one, delayed moment. Brothers.
I control my features, my words carefully chosen as my mind tries to figure out the proper response, tries to figure out what this woman wants me to say. I have no articulate response.