It Had to Be You | Chapter 13 of 49

Author: Susan May Warren | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2865 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 4

HOW COULD HE be here again? Sam leaned forward in a bright-orange chair of the transplant center at the University of Minnesota children’s hospital and scrubbed his hands down his face. “I don’t think I can do this . . .”

The hospital resembled a children’s day care, with pictures of cartoon characters painted on the walls, friendly orange stripes directing traffic, colorful furniture, and large flat-screen TVs affixed to the walls.

But all the decorations couldn’t hide the truth. Children came here to die, and no amount of SpongeBob SquarePants or Dora the Explorer could distract from the families girded in masks and protective gear, living on the edge of tragedy.

Sam had walked by rooms with parents sleeping on the long padded couches along the windows as tubes and wires and oxygen kept their tykes alive in the beds. He couldn’t bear it and escaped to the end of the hall.

“This is my fault.”

“This is not your fault.” Jace turned from where he stood at the window overlooking the parking lot. The sunrise bled across the University of Minnesota campus. It had taken five hours to get Maddy admitted, evaluated, stabilized, tested, and into a restless slumber. The doctor had scheduled her for a biopsy first thing in the morning.

And now the waiting began.

What would he have done without Jace keeping him calm, driving them to the ER, then staying with Sam to help him stutter out Maddy’s history?

Yes, she had a transplant three years ago.

No, she’d had no signs of rejection, but yes, okay, he’d missed her appointment three months ago and hadn’t yet rescheduled. But he could be termed a near fanatic about her medicine. How could she have missed her antirejection meds?

Still, with the move and her being sick, maybe he’d messed up.

“I just thought that her stomachaches had to do with losing the house and moving in over the bar. Maddy was always a finicky eater and —” Sam shook his head. “I should have figured it out. She’s retaining fluid, and she’s been so tired. She falls asleep during her schoolwork and often at dinner.”

“She doesn’t sleep —she’s up waiting for you to get off work.” Jace leaned against the opposite wall.

“No, see, that’s what I told myself. But anyone with a brain would have added it up. And if I hadn’t missed her appointment . . .” He looked at Jace. “This is my fault. If she’s in full rejection . . . well, it’s not like they’re going to give her another heart.”

Jace pushed himself off the wall. “Why not? She’s nine years old —”

“You know that it’s not about age. It’s about viability. And . . . the brutal truth is I don’t have the financial resources to care for another heart. They look at that too —your ability to manage the aftercare. They could even send a social worker around and decide that her home life isn’t compatible with proper post-transplant care.” He looked down the hall, listening in case Maddy had woken and needed him. He should get back in there, but he just couldn’t stand by her bed, count her breaths, watch the IV drip methylprednisolone into her veins in some desperate attempt to stop her frail body from rejecting her heart. He couldn’t see her sink into the cotton blankets without hating someone.

Like himself.

Or God.

Sam shook his head before he let the thought take root. No. If he didn’t have God, he’d have no one. Still, sometimes he wanted to ask, whose side was God on, anyway?

“You don’t need to worry about money, Sam —”

“Stop, Jace. I know you mean well, but we both know that you can’t keep funding her medical expenses. I am an idiot for not getting enough insurance —we can agree on that —but she’s not your responsibility.”

Jace’s eyes narrowed, just for a second, as if he’d been punched, but he took a breath, nodded. “Right. Sure.”

“Don’t take it that way, dude. I’m sorry. It’s just . . . I’m so angry, you know? I just want to hit something.”

“You have every reason to be angry. If it makes you feel better, you can hit me.”

Sam managed a short grin. “Thanks, but you’re already sporting a bit of a shiner there, J. I’m sorry I missed the game. Please tell me you got a few licks in.”

“Sorry to disappoint you —and the rest of the St. Paul Blue Ox fans, apparently —but I managed to have a fight-free night. The shiner is from a teammate.”

“Really?”

When Jace lifted a shoulder, Sam suspected more behind his answer, but Jace said nothing, and Sam didn’t chase it.

“I could go for some coffee.”

“On it.” Jace settled a hand on Sam’s shoulder, squeezed. “I’m going to stop by the chapel, too.”

Sam nodded. Yes, please.

He listened to Jace’s steps and closed his eyes.

He couldn’t pray. Not yet. Because if he went into the little hospital chapel and lay prostrate before the altar, cried and begged and hoped like last time, it meant that he believed Maddy might really die. He couldn’t let his brain —his heart —go there.

He clasped his hands in his lap. I’m sorry, Mia. I’m sorry I didn’t take better care of our daughter.

Sam tightened his jaw, looked toward Maddy’s dark room, and wished, not for the first time, that God had taken him instead of Mia and left his daughter the mother she so desperately needed.

dingbat

Eden didn’t care what Jace Jacobsen thought of her. She really didn’t care. Certainly not enough to let his annoying voice chase her through the night, tie her sheets into knots.

You’re pretty enough.

Fine, Jace’s words had hurt, just a little. But that was crazy, right? Because she couldn’t stand the guy.

And clearly the feeling was mutual.

She rolled over in her bed toward the window. The sun had already turned her room to gray, an orange glow just tipping above the horizon. Not that she could see past the building behind her to catch any hint of a glorious sunrise, but at least she could justify peeling herself out of bed. Sucking down four cups of coffee while she read the obits.

Most importantly, at least she’d be on time for work.

A chill lingered in her flat, the thin panes rattling against a nasty wind; January must have turned frigid again, which meant today would be littered with black ice and car accidents.

She’d have to brace herself for a call from Russell.

Eden grabbed her parka, still flung over her kitchen chair, and wrapped herself in it as she heated water for coffee.

Listen, you and I run in different circles. And I’m happy with that.

And she was. Gloriously happy. Over the moon with joy.

She pulled out a box of granola, shook some into a bowl.

Hopefully she’d never have to be in the same room with J-Hammer Jacobsen again.

Or the same car.

Or the same airspace.

Oh, the man took up way too much room in her head. And she kept smelling his cologne, like it had embedded in her pores . . . or her jacket.

She shucked it off and hung it up near the door, going into her bedroom to retrieve a sweater.

On the way, she picked up her phone from the bedside table. Owen had dialed her three times before she’d finally shut it off somewhere around 5 a.m. She turned it on now, noticed the missed calls, ignored them, and set her phone on the counter while she added milk to her granola, then poured coffee grounds into the French press. A gift from Owen for her birthday.

Owen is going to be a great hockey player. He doesn’t need quite so much mothering.

Whatever. Clearly she couldn’t count on Jace to help her keep Owen out of trouble. And to think, for about two miles there, he’d seemed a real . . . Well, gentleman might be going too far, but friendly. A womanizer, maybe, but not the guy who’d lured a girl to his room and attacked her during a party. Eden still remembered the headlines and the press conference when he revealed his alibi —sitting at his dying mother’s bedside. The reporters hadn’t exactly let the poor woman die in obscurity after that. They’d dug into her past, and even Eden felt sorry for Jace then.

It seemed that shortly thereafter, Jace had driven his car into an icy lake.

He might not have deserved the public examination of his life —or the wild accusations —but he’d certainly sealed his reputation in the years before that. And even Jace agreed that Owen reminded him of himself.

Still . . . You might be his babysitter, honey. But I’m not.

Jerk.

She poured the hot water into the French press, stirred it, then set the top on to let it steep.

Her phone rang, and she nearly ignored it until she saw her mother’s face on the screen. “Mom. Hi.”

“Oh, good, you’re up.”

Eden could imagine her mother, Ingrid Christiansen, sitting in her leather chair in the lodge living room, overlooking Evergreen Lake. In this chill, it would be frozen over, with snowmobile tracks crisscrossing the snow-laden surface and fishing houses clumped in the center. Her father might have cleared a patch of ice for Darek and his son, Tiger, to slap a few shots around. The six-year-old was another hockey star in the making, for another generation. Maybe Darek would teach Ivy, his girlfriend, how to skate. Eden held out hope that the two would get engaged soon.

“I know it’s early, honey, but I haven’t talked to you all week, and I thought I might catch you before work.”

Eden went to her front door to retrieve the paper. “I’m sorry. It’s been a busy week. Did you see Owen’s game last night?”

“Yes, of course. So how’s work?”

“It was terrible, Mom. He was out of control, playing angry. It reminded me of the section finals against Duluth East when he was a junior. Slashing, charging.”

“Did you go with anyone?”

“I . . . uh . . . Sort of.” She grabbed her cereal and went to the kitchen table. “A guy I know through work. It was awful. He turned out to be a crazy fan —even dyed his hair blue.”

“Oh, my.”

“I know. And then, after the game, I went to wait for Owen, but he took off right away —didn’t even wait for me.”

“Your date left you at the game?”

“No, Mom, Owen. He left after the game. With some friends or something. Didn’t even stick around to talk to me.”

“It’s beautiful up here. We just got a fresh snowfall. We’d love to see you —why don’t you escape this weekend and come up?”

“Aw, I’d love to, but Owen has a game Friday night, and I think he’ll be too tired.”

“Eden, I’m not talking about Owen —I want you to come up and visit. Without Owen.”

Without Owen? “He needs me to be at his game —”

“Owen is a big boy. He’ll be just fine.”

Uh, no, he wouldn’t. Wasn’t. It tipped her lips to tell her mother exactly how not fine Owen was, but then what? She couldn’t bear to add Owen to her list of failures. Job, romance . . . No, Owen and his stellar career were all she had left.

She refused to let him fail.

“I don’t know —”

“Eden. We appreciate you keeping an eye on your brother, but you’re not responsible for him. You have your own amazing life. Now, tell me, how can I pray for you this week?”

Her own amazing life? Right. She set the paper on the table, pulling out the sports section. Of course, Owen’s picture had made the front page, above the fold. He wore a grimace as he slapped in his second goal.

“I don’t know, Mom. For my car to start?”

“Oh, honey, just buy a new battery. Or better, a new car.”

“I gotta go.”

She heard a sigh on the other end of the line. “I believe in you, Eden. Even if you don’t believe in yourself.”

What was that supposed to mean? “Thanks, Mom. I’ll tell Owen you said hi.”

She hung up and stared out her sliding-glass window to where the sunrise now burned over the top of the buildings. Snow covered her rusty terrace furniture. Inside, her spider plant had long surrendered to winter, dormant and sad, and an old floral sheet covered a hole in her garage sale sofa.

The telltale signs of an amazing life.

She opened to the obits and scanned Kendra’s remembrance article. She’d written a nice piece about Stanley R. Barker, unearthing the story of his rescue of two small children and their mother from a burning building.

An unsung hero. See, that’s what obits were about —discovering what made people special. Remarkable.

Yeah, and when she died, her obit would read . . . sister of Owen Christiansen.

She closed the paper.

Maybe her mother —and Jace —had a point. Maybe she did put too much of her identity in Owen’s successes. Feared too much his failures.

Fine. Today she’d ignore Owen and his crabby attitude. Let him fail, just a little.

It wasn’t like his career was in immediate danger. According to the sports reporter, last night, despite his penalties, he’d had one of the best games of his life.

And if she walked away, he’d wake up and realize that he missed her. That he needed her.

She was in the shower when her phone rang. She thought she heard it again as she dried her hair.

It rang a third time as she was brushing her teeth. Owen’s face appeared on the screen. Again.

See, he missed her already. She spit and answered. “Owen, this better be you, live, in the flesh, and not you rolling over in your sleep, fully clothed —”

“Is this Eden?” A man’s voice —vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place it.

She shut off the water, grabbed a towel. “Who is this?”

“Max Sharpe. I play right wing —”

“Yeah. I know who you are. Why do you have Owen’s phone? Did he leave it somewhere?”

It was the hesitation on the other end that made her sink down on the edge of the tub. “What’s happened?”

“Owen’s been injured.”

She closed her eyes.

“We were . . . we were playing a game of pickup hockey —”

“What? In the middle of the night?”

“A couple hours ago. It was a pond game —me and some of the other guys and Owen. We met up with some of the Denver players, and things got heated, so we decided to take it on the ice —and, well, we were kind of drunk.”

“Of course you were.” Oops, she probably didn’t need to say that, but —“Just tell me what happened, Max.”

“Things got wild and he got nailed in the eye by the end of a stick.”

That was it? He’d been backhanded before, ended up with a black eye. “Okay.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty bad.”

“So put an ice pack on it.” Maybe this was when she would teach him a lesson, make him fend for himself. “Listen, I’m going to be late for work —”

“We’re at the hospital, Eden. University of Minnesota. They think he might lose his eye.”

It seemed the room swam then, a complete circle. She slid off the tub and onto the floor.

Lose his eye.

“Are you there?” Max said.

“Yes,” she said, her voice shaking. “Stay put. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“He was asking for you.”

Finally.

dingbat

In truth, Jace had just wanted to run. No amount of pretty paint or high-tech gadgetry could erase the odors and tastes of a transplant wing.

Too much desperation saturated the hallways, slithering under his skin even as he found his way to the chapel.

He sat on a pew before the altar, fighting to find words through his own tangle of anger.

Jace agreed with Sam. He, too, wanted to punch something or maybe lace on his skates and fly over an open pond, take as many shots on goal as he could until his entire body ached.

Anything to erase the feel of Maddy’s delicate, failing body in his arms.

God, it’s just not fair.

It was as far as he got before he gave up and headed out to the elevators.

He needed some air, and Sam deserved something better than cafeteria coffee. He thought he remembered a real coffee shop down the street.

January had revived with a vengeance in the hours since they arrived at the hospital, the day bright and crisp as the early morning sun lifted above the skyline. His frustration emerged in a puff of breath as he took off in a run down the sidewalk.

His lungs burned, and he liked it.

He had to clear the smell, the memories, from his nostrils. The sight of his mother tucked into a bed, not unlike Maddy, disappearing before his eyes, waiting . . . waiting . . .

Sybil Jacobsen had died slowly, in agony, suffocating.

He stood at the light with a crowd of pedestrians, jogging in place like an idiot in his dress pants and shoes. He refused to look around at a father and son who’d edged toward him. The boy —he looked about twelve —glanced at him, then again.

Yes, hello, it’s me.

Only, maybe they wouldn’t recognize him without a blue-and-white sweater, a helmet, a stick in his hand 

“Good game last night, Mr. Hammer.”

He didn’t correct the kid, just smiled. “Thanks.”

The light changed and he quick-walked across the slick street. His dress shoes did nothing to assist him as he slipped on the ice, and for a second he regretted his impulsiveness.

Especially when the wind kicked up and scraped at his ears.

But he ducked his head and found the coffee shop, adding himself to the line. He tried to remember Sam’s order —a macchiato? And a moose-size black coffee for himself. Taking out his phone, he thumbed through the Star Trib’s online news, reading the headlines. The sports section had posted pictures of Owen —one with his hands high in triumph, another with his fists in a Denver Blades player’s sweater, his face in a grimace. Boy wonder sidelined by penalties, still pulls out victory.

Yeah, Owen had a stellar, J-Hammer-style game. And if he didn’t straighten himself out, he’d land a rep that might change his career. Soon that pretty-boy face would sport its own crooked nose, maybe some loose teeth. Jace had four not his own.

Couldn’t we be on the same team? Maybe work together to keep him out of trouble?

Eden’s voice chipped at him, and he ignored it as he stepped up to the counter and ordered, adding a muffin and a yogurt. Probably Sam wouldn’t eat anything else the rest of the day.

Poor Sam. Jace couldn’t imagine living through it all again —the despair, the hope, the coiled tension every time the phone rang, praying it would be a donor organ.

The helplessness could drive a man crazy. Still, Sam had always possessed the ability to pick up the pieces of his life when it seemed the darkest. Like when he’d climbed out of the devastation of losing his hockey career, met Mia, fallen in love, had Maddy.

He’d found a way to keep going after losing Mia, too, rising to the challenge of being both mother and father to Maddy. Sam’s daughter gave him focus.

She gave Jace focus too. Since the day she wrapped her chubby fingers around his, Jace had fallen hard for his best friend’s kid.

He moved over to wait for his order and did a quick Google search of his name.

No new blogs or weird news reports. So maybe Eden wasn’t out to exploit their ride home for the world’s scrutiny.

Perhaps his guilt just gnawed at him. He shouldn’t have been quite so cold toward her. After all, she was right —maybe he did have a responsibility to Owen and the other younger players. He hadn’t exactly acted like the team captain lately, so focused on his injuries and the demise of his career.

Maybe he should have a sit-down-and-come-to-Jesus meeting with Owen.

The barista handed him the drinks, and he took them with his bag of food over to a table, propping his loot on it while he scanned his phone for Owen’s number. No time like the present to roust the kid out of bed, help him see the light. He thought he’d downloaded the team roster onto his phone, but apparently not.

He found Max’s number, however, and dialed it. He’d seen the guy leaving with Owen, and even if he was snoozing, it would do the other troublemaker good to join them in that little sit-down.

Already Jace could feel the helplessness sloughing off, the steam subsiding. He’d get in Owen’s face, make him see exactly where he was headed with a vivid and ugly cautionary tale.

If this ended up being Jace’s last year in the league, he would leave with a legacy of something more than his reputation.

Max answered, quicker and more alert than Jace expected. “Hello?”

“Max. It’s J. I know it’s early, but I —”

“J., listen, I’m so sorry. It was stupid, I know it, and —”

Max was breathing hard, too hard, what sounded like panic in his voice.

“Calm down. What are you talking about?”

He heard Max exhale, could almost imagine the guy rubbing his hand across his forehead.

“Where are you?”

“I’m in the waiting room. At the university hospital. It’s Owen —he was in a fight.”

Of course he was. And now he probably had stitches and orders to sit out the next game. Or two.

“Perfect. That’s just awesome.” Jace nested the phone against his shoulder, picking up the coffees and the bag. “When will he be all stitched up?”

Silence.

“Max?” Jace paused a second before he pushed out the door.

“Uh . . . he’s in surgery, J. Like, it’s bad. I think you need to get over here.”

Jace stepped back inside, out of the cold, as another patron entered. He set the coffees on the garbage can. Surgery? “How bad?”

Max sighed again, a tremble in it, and the sound reminded Jace of the morning his mother had slipped away. Reminded him of sitting beside her bed as his world crumbled.

“I’ll be right there.”

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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