Page 52 of The Secret Father

He wasn’t there. She blinked and inhaled deeply. There were two people sitting at the other end of the room. They sat in chairs placed opposite one another, their knees touching. The man held the woman’s hands between his. Lindy could see the tension and weariness from where she stood.

‘I…I’m sorry, I’m intruding.’

‘You’re a doctor?’ The woman got to her feet. Her pretty face was white and strained; dark shadows filled the hollows beneath her eyes. ‘Is it Ben?’

This was the mother of Sam’s child. ‘I don’t work here,’ Lindy admitted. She had been willing to do almost anything in her desire to see Sam, but she couldn’t lie to these people. ‘You must be Marilyn. I’m a…I’m a friend of Sam’s. I hoped I might be able to help.’

‘He’s sitting with Ben.’

‘I’m sorry…I shouldn’t be here,’ she faltered. It was a mistake—this woman’s grief made her reasons for being here seem petty. It put her own suffering into perspective. She turned to go, but the other woman caught her arm.

‘No, don’t go. Sam needs someone here. I’ve got Murray. I think I’d be insane by now if he wasn’t here. We didn’t think Sam had anyone.’

‘It’s not like that. We’re not…’

Ben’s mother had a lovely smile; when it wasn’t tinged with sadness it must have made her quite beautiful. ‘You came; that must mean something.’

The quiet words stilled Lindy’s panic, but not the doom-laden certainty that she’d made a big mistake coming here. It means I’m a fool, a lovesick clown, she silently replied. Sam doesn’t want to see me. He can’t stand the sight of me!

‘Perhaps I could leave a message for Sam?’ she suggested. Yes, a message would be much more sensible— safer. ‘I don’t actually know where I’m staying yet.’ She reached in her pocket for the address of the hotel Adam had suggested.

‘He’s conscious.’

Lindy started at the sound of Sam’s voice. She was pushed to one side as Marilyn surged forward. The woman flung her arms around Sam’s neck.

‘Thank God, thank God!’ she kept saying, over and over.

Her husband, a tall, slim man with a shock of auburn hair and a thin, intense face, touched her arm. She released Sam and buried her face in her husband’s shoulder.

‘You go in; I’ll wait here,’ Sam said.

The couple didn’t need a second bidding. Sam watched them go with an expression of yearning on his face. His throat worked hard, and as he turned she could see the unhealthy grey tinge of his skin. He didn’t appear to see her as he lowered himself stiffly into a chair. He closed his eyes and his head drooped forward.

Lindy’s professional eyes could see he was close to collapse, but his incredible will was driving him on. He was keeping everything inside and it was destroying him.

‘Hello, Sam.’ She came to sit beside him.

His head came up and he looked at her without any sign of recognition. There was neither rejection nor pleasure in his eyes. ‘Rosalind? Ben’s awake.’

‘That’s marvellous.’ There was a lump of emotion in her throat. She wanted to hold him, but she knew he was deliberately holding onto his rigid control. ‘I spoke to Marilyn; she’s lovely.’

‘Yes,’ he replied vaguely. He brushed a weary hand across his forehead. The line between his brows deepened. ‘What are you doing here, Rosalind?’

‘I wanted to help.’ She was frightened for him; he looked so close to the edge.

He just nodded, and she wasn’t even sure he’d heard her. ‘Where are you going, Sam?’ She got to her feet, too.

‘It’s time for me to go.’

‘Aren’t you going back in to see Ben?’ she asked gently.

‘He wants his mom and dad,’ he told her, without any inflection in his voice. ‘He didn’t know who I was, Rosalind.’ His voice was harsh.

The pain behind that simple statement made her heart ache. Feeling helpless, she instinctively reached for his hand. Her own was instantly enfolded in a fierce grip.

‘Where are you staying, Sam?’

‘I came straight here.’

‘When was that?’

‘Tuesday…no, Monday. Straight from Hong Kong. We were spying the lie of the land for our next project.’

She did some mental arithmetic—four days, the flight from Hong Kong…God knew when he’d last slept. ‘And have you slept at all?’

Sam looked impatient and shook his head.

‘Have you eaten?’

‘I’ve had coffee.’