It Had to Be You | Chapter 16 of 49

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

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Chapter 7

FORGET HIS OATH not to pray, not to get on his face and beg, because right here, right now, that’s all Sam had. Just God and desperation.

Sam sat in the front pew of the tiny chapel, hardly able to breathe, a noose around his chest, his face in his hands.

He wanted to weep, but even that he couldn’t manage. Just a low moan of pain. Please, God.

Why would God spare him, a rough-around-the-edges ex–hockey player, and take Mia? Kind, wise, beautiful Mia, who knew how to braid Maddy’s hair and sing her to sleep and believe in happy endings.

Maybe that was the problem —he had stopped believing in happy endings years ago. Now he just believed in holding on.

Surviving.

Take me, God. If You have to take someone, take me. It didn’t sound like the right theology, and he knew it. God didn’t bargain, didn’t play favorites. Sam’s head told him all this, but his heart couldn’t quite grasp it.

Why were some children born with perfectly healthy hearts and his priceless daughter born with one destined to betray her?

At the very least, he didn’t understand why God stood by and let her suffer.

Sam pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes, hating the spiral of thoughts, the way fear could suffocate him. They’d given him a beeper like they might in a restaurant Sir, your table is ready. Your child is ready. Your verdict awaits. Maybe they knew that desperate parents couldn’t hang around in the waiting room, hollow gazes not meeting each other, afraid to acknowledge the grief.

He couldn’t bear it.

If Sam could tear out his heart and give it to Maddy, he would. Had even thought it through —how he might convince some doctor to carve into his chest, give life to his little girl. But before he could do it, the unthinkable had happened to some other undeserving family. Their child had died, and because of it, Sam’s daughter had lived, and it cost him nothing.

Sure, the medical expenses, even with his insurance, had cost him his home —their home —the one Mia had created for them, with Maddy’s pink room, the canopy bed, what seemed like thousands of Beanie Babies that Mia had collected over the years. But Sam would sleep in a cardboard box under a bridge if it meant Maddy might have a safe, normal childhood.

Or even have a childhood at all.

He couldn’t go through this again. Sam sank to his knees before the altar in the clean, bright hospital chapel, closing his eyes.

Sam?

He heard her voice like a whisper in the back of his heart and let Mia walk in, let her sit down beside him.

In his memory, he took her hand. Smooth and soft as he ran his thumb over it. I miss you.

I miss you too. Her voice could still catch his heart in his throat. And even though he knew she couldn’t possibly be here, he let himself talk.

“I’m so sorry. I know I probably messed up. I should have done better, I know.”

Hang on, Sam.

The image changed to Mia sinking into her hospital bed, her skin pasty, white, the veins in her beautiful hands bruised. Hang on, Sam.

And then she’d slipped away.

“You should have been the one to hang on, Mia.” His voice echoed in the tiny chapel, and he opened his eyes to see if he’d shaken anyone.

He’d surely shaken himself, the anger right on the edge of his tone.

But maybe he didn’t care. “You should have hung on. Waited for a donor. Maddy needs a mother. She needs someone to do her hair and sing her songs and hold her hand. Because I can’t do this. Not anymore.”

You’re not alone.

Not her voice, maybe. It bore a deeper resonance that sank into his bones.

He covered his mouth before he let sobs leak out. Oh, God, please help me hold on.

The beeper went off —loud and abrupt, nearly sending him through his skin. Sam picked it up.

Then he took off running.

dingbat

To Jace, Sam looked like he’d succumbed to a three-day bender, an odor emanating from him that called up images of the man passing out behind a Dumpster. His hair stood nearly on end; his beard had grown in reddish and gnarly; his shirt still bore the stains of Maddy’s illness 

But now was not the time to tell Sam that he might be mistaken for a derelict. Not when he was seated on the couch in Maddy’s room, his daughter still on the surgical table, on life support, while the doctor explained to Sam the details of the artificial heart he wanted to use to save her life.

Temporarily.

The device hailed from Germany. Or maybe Jace just thought so because he’d caught “Berlin” in the conversation. He was trying to make sense of the terminology, trying to listen so he could explain it to Sam later if he had to.

Not that Sam didn’t know everything about post–heart transplant options. The man had spent years scouring the Internet, reading books, monitoring Maddy’s diet, trying to keep her on schedule with her meds. He was a fanatic about her hygiene, and the fact that he’d lost his house and moved above the bar, the fact that somehow in that mix Maddy had missed some of her antirejection meds, seemed a cruel tragedy.

Sam didn’t deserve this. Maddy didn’t deserve this. But life wasn’t fair —Jace had learned that long, long ago. If it were, he would have never made it to the pros. He would be working in some bar or mine or paper mill in International Falls.

At the twilight of his career, and especially in light of Sam’s journey, Jace might want to remember that.

The nurse handed Sam some papers, and he signed them with the look of a man headed for Folsom prison.

Then the doc took off to connect Maddy’s heart to tubes and wire and the desperate hope that it might keep her alive until . . .

Until hope died?

Sam sat back, his hand on his chest as if he couldn’t breathe.

“Dude. I’m so sorry.” Jace sat on the end of the green sofa. “Tell me what to do.”

Sam lifted a shoulder, his eyes empty. “All we can do is wait.”

Wait. Jace could taste the helplessness like acid in his throat, and he stood. “I’m going to get you some clothes.” He paused. “Unless you need me to stay.”

But Sam didn’t even look up.

“I have my cell phone. And I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

“It’ll be a few hours at best.”

Sam sounded exhausted. As Jace watched, he got up, went over to Maddy’s bed, and climbed in, pulling her pillow to his chest.

Yes, perhaps Sam didn’t need him here. And “Hang in there” sounded . . . Well, he just couldn’t say enough for what his friend needed.

“Call me if . . . I’ll be here the minute you need me.”

Sam nodded, nothing of comprehension in his eyes.

Jace walked down the hall and dug his thumb into the elevator button, his stomach a knot.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Not for little girls. Especially not for little girls who’d already lost their mothers.

He took the elevator to the main level, then out to the parking garage. He’d run by Sam’s, find him some clothes, pick up dinner, and be back before Maddy got out of surgery.

And yet he found himself pulling into the medical center parking lot. As if his GPS had its own mind.

He’d just do a quick run in and check on Owen.

Jace took the elevator to Owen’s floor. He still wore his shorts, although he’d discarded the ice pack. He got a few looks as he traipsed past the nurses’ station.

Jace spied the conversation knot from down the hall, the cluster of family members outside the room. He recognized John and Casper, the two sisters, Eden’s mom.

No Eden.

They stood in a worried huddle, talking in low tones. Casper spotted him, and for a moment, the conversation stilled.

Oops. “Hey,” Jace said. “I came to check on Owen.”

Something in John’s face gave him pause. Then the way Ingrid pressed her fingers to her mouth, turned away.

“They had to give him a sedative,” Casper said. “He’s . . . upset.”

“Yeah, well, wouldn’t you be upset if the doctor told you that you might never play hockey again?” the younger, redheaded sister said.

Jace had heard it already, but to listen to the pain in Owen’s sister’s voice made his insides tighten.

He just stood there while the family shifted on their feet. Finally, “So . . . where’s Eden?” He wasn’t sure why that felt important at the moment, but the fact that she hadn’t joined her family seemed weird.

Not that he was concerned.

Okay, maybe a little.

“She took off,” Casper said. “As soon as Owen started losing it, she left.”

“Casper, he didn’t lose it.”

“What would you call that, Mom?” the redhead said.

“He’s just upset.”

“We’re all upset,” John said quietly. He looked at Jace. “She’s probably around here somewhere. She always turns up.”

He nodded. “I’ll track her down.”

Casper raised an eyebrow, but Jace walked away. He was just trying to be . . . a friend. Maybe she needed that right now, and it didn’t mean they’d become best pals or anything.

What if she’d taken the same runaway route as last time? Jace returned to the elevator and retraced his steps. Stood in the hallway.

The cheers and what sounded like the play-by-play of a hockey game slipped out from under the door of a nearby room.

The room with the coma patient. He hadn’t woken, had he? Jace pushed open the door and stuck his head in.

Eden sat with her feet up on the patient’s bed, drinking coffee, watching one of Jace’s shots on goal. A miss, and the crowd moaned.

“That shouldn’t come as a great surprise to you. I missed it before, too.” He stepped into the room, and she looked at him, her face slacking as she withdrew her feet from the bed.

“I was just —”

“Hiding. I know. I saw your family outside Owen’s room.”

“How is he?”

He grimaced. “They had to sedate him.”

She swallowed, ran her thumb around the rim of her cup. “He was throwing things.”

“I’m sure this isn’t easy for him.”

“I feel so helpless, you know?”

He sat on the opposite, empty bed. “I do know. My friend’s kid —Sam’s daughter, Maddy —her heart stopped today. They are putting in an artificial heart right now, some mechanical device that will keep her alive until they find her another heart.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Jace.” The compassion in her pretty green eyes rushed through him.

“Yeah. He’s had it rough. We played together when I was a rookie. He took me under his wing, became sort of a big brother to me. He was a great player —until he was injured and sidelined. Had a tough couple years after that. Then he met Mia. She was a waitress at one of his hangouts, but also a fitness geek, and she gave him a new outlook on his life. When they married, I know he thought they’d live happily ever after.”

“What happened?”

“Mia developed an enlarged heart during pregnancy and was put on the transplant list. She never got her heart and died when Maddy was three.”

Eden’s eyes widened. “I’m so sorry.”

“Yeah. But he had Maddy and that helped. Until Maddy developed the same condition.”

“Which is why she had the heart transplant.”

He nodded. “But the medical expenses made him lose his home, and now . . . who knows if they can find her another heart.”

“That’s awful.”

He drew in a breath. Looked at John Doe. “So you’re making new friends?” He tried a smile.

She answered it. “He’s a bit tight-lipped, but we’re getting along. I like a man who doesn’t interrupt me.” But a sadness touched her eyes, and her voice changed. “I feel sorry for him. No family. How is he supposed to get well without family?”

Good question. Where would Jace have been without Maddy and Sam to help him heal after he lost his mother?

“I’m sure he has family.”

“But wouldn’t that be awful —to not know your son or brother was injured?”

Jace walked over to the young man. Clean-cut, despite his growth of whiskers. Jace had never been this guy, but he might have wanted to be.

Or maybe he had been exactly this man, trapped, broken. John Doe needed someone to rescue him just as badly as Jace had that night in the water.

Eden brought him back from the memory. “I keep thinking about who he might be and how sometimes people come out of a coma if they hear a familiar voice.” She lifted a shoulder as if already shrugging off the idea. “I was thinking I might try to find his family.”

Her words slid like fire through his bones. “You want to find out who he is?”

She made a sort of face then. “I know. It’s a long shot, but I feel sad for him —”

“I’ll help.” He wasn’t sure where those words emerged from, but as soon as he said them, something shifted inside him.

Yes. He could find this kid’s family, and maybe everything in his life, in his world, wouldn’t feel so dark.

Eden looked stunned. “What?”

“I mean, I know you’re the reporter, but . . . could I help somehow?”

She set down her cup of coffee. “Uh . . . I don’t know —”

“Listen. I get that you don’t like me very much. But maybe we can work together on this. I’m just . . .” He shook his head. “I’m sick of being helpless. Of watching the people I care about suffer.” Or his career die. “I don’t know —it might help to do something. Anything. Even help this stranger find his family.”

“Uh . . .” She blew out a breath. “Just so you know, I’m not . . . I mean . . .” She made another strange face. “I’m not a great reporter.”

He frowned. “I’m sure you are. And it’s a great story.”

Something flickered in her eyes. Her expression stirred a tingle in him, a curiosity. “It is a good story, isn’t it? It’s a great —even front-page —story. The kind of story I’ve waited for.”

He couldn’t help but notice the way her countenance changed as she got up, stood over John Doe.

“He looks like a college student, and maybe an athlete? We could check at the local colleges . . .”

“Or maybe he’s just a kid who was in the wrong place at the wrong time?”

“Right. It could be that he’s not even from here. Maybe he’s from Chicago, and he came to town to hang out with friends. Or he flew in to finally meet this girl he connected with online, and she is still waiting —”

“In the snow.”

She glanced at him. “Pining, actually. Knowing he’s the right guy, finally, but not sure why he hasn’t shown up. Why he’s left her in the darkness and cold . . .”

“Wow. Now I don’t know if we should help him, after he abandoned her like that.”

Eden raised an eyebrow, but he smiled, winked.

“Let’s give him a chance. It wasn’t his fault. He was on his way to buy flowers when he was jumped,” Eden said.

“You’re right. For Marilou.”

“Marilou?”

“The girl who is pining.”

“Right. Marilou.” He won another smile, something warm, igniting dangerous, unexpected feelings of anticipation.

So he could admit that the prospect of spending time with her didn’t make him want to run. Didn’t mean he shouldn’t be on his guard. The first hint that she was picking apart his life or bossing him around or telling him what a terrible role model he’d become, he would walk.

Even if she might be right. “So, for Marilou?” he said.

She picked up her coffee. Considered Doe. “Okay. Yes. You can help me. Let’s find John Doe.”

dingbat

I get that you don’t like me very much. . . .

Jace’s words tugged at Eden all morning.

Mostly because she did like him, despite herself. Just a little.

For Marilou. Eden had to smile at that. She loved the game of imagining a person’s life, but to find him playing along . . . She might be in trouble here. Had she completely forgotten his reputation?

She could blame her fatigue. Her fragile emotional state. And Jace’s devastating smile. It slid up his face, stopped at an unexpected dimple, and possessed the power to chase words from her brain.

It would help if he weren’t so handsome, with all those chocolate curls, wide shoulders, a warrior’s physique.

It only confused her —and her good sense. One second he was shutting down their conversation and steering her back to the elevator; then he was plugging his cell number into her phone and offering to help her land a story.

A great story. Yes, this story would certainly make Hal sit up and take notice.

And maybe, if she found Doe’s family, they could wake him up. She might even save a life.

Still, what game was Jace playing? Because certainly famed Jace Jacobsen wasn’t serious about donating his time to help her find a kid that society forgot.

Although, for a long moment there, Eden had believed him. Especially when he helped her search Doe’s room for his belongings. She’d found them in a big white bag in the closet, and then, with Jace standing guard by the door, she sorted through his grimy red ski jacket, flannel shirt, faded jeans.

She’d unearthed only a flimsy, faded receipt for a sandwich, with the restaurant name partially torn off the top.

Before she had a chance to invoke any investigative powers, the nurse came in, gave them an annoyed look, and shooed them away.

And Jace vanished. Poof! Gone. Like she’d dreamed the entire escapade.

But the sandwich receipt sat like contraband in her pocket, burning Eden as she worked at her desk in obits.

She’d stolen it. From a coma patient. She’d rifled through his disgusting, soiled clothing. Three times she’d washed her hands in Owen’s room, hanging around while her parents ordered pizza.

The dinner felt like a feeble attempt by her family to inflate another flimsy bubble of hope around Owen, as though his outburst hadn’t sent a tremor of fear through all of them. But they didn’t know Owen like she did.

He wasn’t destined to take this well.

Eden took out the receipt. Smoothed it on her desk. She could make out the time and date and part of a name. Frog ?

Maybe this was a bad idea. Impulsive, and really, how was she going to find this kid’s family if the police couldn’t even do it?

Except what if it were Owen in that bed, all alone?

It is a good story, isn’t it?

She glanced at Charlotte’s closed office door. Took a breath. Got up. She put the receipt back in her pocket, then headed to Charlotte’s office. Pausing outside the door, Eden ran her thumb over the edge of the receipt.

No, it’s a great story.

She knocked.

“Enter.” Charlotte looked up as Eden eased the door open. “Oh yes, hello, Eden.” She wore a gray cashmere sweater today, a fedora on her head as if she were some Vogue editor. “How’s your brother?”

Eden brushed her hands across her wool pants. “He’s . . . not great, actually.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that. I saw the news reports. It sounds like he might be out for a few games.”

“We hope he’ll be back soon.” Yesterday her father had talked with reporters from KARE 11 on the phone after the family devised a party line. We hope he’ll be back soon. Go Blue Ox.

“Do you need a few days off? I know you and your brother are close.” Charlotte smiled, but her gaze had already tracked back to her computer.

“No . . . I mean, thank you, but I’m here because I have a story lead.”

Charlotte pulled off her glasses. “Oh?”

“Yes. While I was at the hospital, I happened upon a John Doe. He’s in a coma, and they can’t find his family. I was hoping that maybe I could track them down.”

Charlotte just sighed.

“What?”

“He’s not deceased, is he?”

“He’s in a coma.”

“Is he likely to die?”

“Well . . . I hope not. I’m trying to find his family so he might hear their voices and wake up.”

“Then he’s not a fit for obits, is he?”

Oh. “But what if . . . ? Why do we always have to wait until they’re dead?”

Charlotte raised an eyebrow. “Because we’re the obituary department?”

But —and she wasn’t sure why she wasted her desperation on Charlotte —“I don’t want to write about the deceased the rest of my life.”

Charlotte put her glasses back on. “You don’t have to. But you are writing obits now. And the last time I looked, you had a tidy pile of them to compose. I would say that you might want to focus on keeping the job you currently have.”

Eden stood there, her heart a stone.

“You’re dismissed, Eden.”

She took a breath, and the words just spilled out. “Aren’t you tired of always writing about death?”

Charlotte looked up at her, frowned. “But, Eden, I don’t write about death. I write about life.”

Right.

Eden headed back to her desk, where a stack of mail-in forms awaited her attention, not to mention the online submissions.

She took out the receipt, stared at it a long moment, then crumpled it in her fist.

She wasn’t a reporter, and she never should have lied to Jace. Truth was, she hadn’t a hope of tracking down this kid’s family. The entire thing was a stupid, impossible idea.

“How was your weekend?” Kendra popped over the side of the cubicle. “And your date with Russell?”

So much had happened since then, she’d nearly forgotten. “Tragic. He showed up for the game with his body painted.”

Kendra’s jaw dropped. “No.”

“Yes. And dyed his hair blue.”

“No!”

“Oh yes. It was . . . quite the game.”

“I’m sorry. And, oh, by the way, I heard about your brother. How is he?”

“We’re supposed to tell the news that he is fine, but . . . it’s pretty bad. His orbit is broken, and he has a severe cut in his eye.”

Kendra made a face. “Wow. That is awful. So they’re thinking he’ll be out for the season?”

She couldn’t say forever, so she nodded.

“Bummer. How’d it happen?”

“He can’t remember. It was a fight, of course. Owen trying to prove something.”

To be tough. Maybe even impress someone, like his team captain.

“What do you have there?” Kendra pointed to the crumpled paper in Eden’s hand.

“A receipt. I was trying to figure out where it was from.”

“Why?”

Eden flicked her thumb on the paper. “While I was at the hospital, I happened upon this guy . . . he’s in a coma. And he’s a John Doe.”

“How sad.”

“Yeah. I was sort of thinking I might try to . . . I don’t know —” She shook her head.

“Find out who he is? I love it!” Kendra came around the cubicle. “That’s a fabulous idea. And so cool. So . . . is that his?”

“I picked it out of his pocket.”

“Oh, you’re bad.”

“Yeah —”

“No, silly. Bad is good.” She took the receipt. “The name is ripped off it.”

“I know. But it sort of looks like Frog —maybe Frogtown. It’s an area in St. Paul, about five miles from downtown, across the river. There’s a White Castle around there, and Owen sometimes likes to stop after practice.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Hey —don’t dis the Castle.” Eden studied the print. “I’m going to do some googling at lunch and see if I can find a deli. Maybe after work I’ll go down there, see if anyone can help me figure out who he is.”

“You’re not going by yourself, are you? I’ve heard of that area . . . it’s not the safest. You need a big, strong man. Maybe even one who wears paint.” Kendra waggled her eyebrows.

“I’m not calling Russell. Ever.”

“Okay, fine. How about your family? Don’t you have a couple brothers?”

“No. I don’t want . . .” Yeah, that’s what she needed —Casper the treasure hunter taking over her search. Or worse, mocking her.

“What about rounding up someone from your brother’s tribe of pals?”

“You mean hockey players?”

“Well, I’m not talking about the swim team, for pete’s sake. You know the entire team. Certainly you could drum up one big, muscly —”

“Okay, that’s enough. No. I mean, sure . . . maybe I have someone I could call.”

Oh, shoot, why did she say that? Because Jace hadn’t been serious about helping her, and now Kendra looked at her, all expectant eyes.

“Who?”

“Nobody. It’s silly.” Eden made to throw the receipt away, but Kendra caught it.

“I mean it —either you find someone, or I’ll call Russell. Maybe he’ll bring his paint.”

“Oh, for —fine.” Eden picked up her cell phone. She scrolled down to Jace’s name. Let her thumb hover a moment before she sent the call through.

This was a mistake.

Her heart began to beat again when he didn’t answer. “Voice mail,” she said to Kendra and pulled the phone away.

Kendra pushed it back to her ear. “You leave a message or I’m looking up Hays Funeral Services.”

Fine. She took a breath at the beep. “Uh, Jace. Hi. I . . . This is Eden. And . . . I . . .” Oh, she couldn’t —really, how desperate was she? “I’m sorry. Forget it.”

She pressed End.

Kendra stared at her. “Jace? Jace Jacobsen? That’s who you called?”

She nodded. “He’s a friend —I mean, he’s Owen’s friend, not mine. But we know each other.”

“No wonder you don’t want to call Russell.” Kendra shook her head. “Mmm-hmmm. Not when you have Mr. J-I-am-hot-Hammer on the line.”

“What? No. Listen —he’s not my kind of guy. He’s too . . . he’s too big for my world. He’s got swarms of women and fans and . . . really, I don’t like him. And he doesn’t like me. Trust me.”

“Well, he does have a reputation.” Kendra made a face. “It doesn’t matter how good-looking a guy is. I remember reading about that scandal —”

“Oh no, Kendra. He was innocent; he wasn’t involved in that at all. He’s actually . . . Well, I think he isn’t all the media makes him out to be.”

“Really?” Kendra drew the word out long and sweetly.

Why couldn’t she keep her mouth shut? She didn’t have to defend him. . . .

Okay, she did. Just a little. Because he’d fed her tapioca pudding.

Kendra leaned on the desk. “If he’s not a scoundrel, then why aren’t you interested in him?”

“I didn’t say he wasn’t trouble. But aside from the fact that he’s not interested in me, which I think should be glaringly obvious, I’m not interested. I want someone normal.”

“Like Russell?”

“No. Like a guy who would rather read to children than read about himself on the front page.”

“Okay. No tall-dark-and-handsome, front-page athlete. Got it. And anyone on skates —right out.”

“Kendra, please. We’re worlds apart. And the fact is, he probably doesn’t even remember volunteering —”

Eden’s phone vibrated. Kendra scooped it up. “It’s him!” She shoved it at Eden. “Answer it!”

Oh, brother. She took the phone. “Hello?”

“Hello, Eden? I’m sorry I missed your call. Did you find something on that guy? John Doe?”

He did remember.

“I found that receipt —”

“In his pants pocket. So did you figure out where it might be from?”

“Maybe. But I don’t want to bother you.”

“Where is it?”

“Okay. Well, do you know where Frogtown is?”

A pause, then, “Yes. Listen, I’m at the hospital, sort of tucked into some things. How about if I swing by after work —”

“Oh no. You’re with your friend Sam, aren’t you?”

Another pause. “Yes.”

“How’s his daughter?”

He sighed, and she chased it quickly with “I’m sorry, Jace; just forget it. I can go —”

“No. That’s out of the question.”

“Really. You don’t have to do this. I know you were just kidding.”

Kendra gestured her confusion, but Eden waved her away.

“Why would you say that?”

“Because . . .” Now she sounded like a desperate fan hoping for his attention. She found her voice, the one she used on Owen. “Listen, I don’t need you to protect me. I can do this on my own.”

His voice turned cold. “You’re not going to Frogtown by yourself. I said I wanted to help, and I meant it. I’ll pick you up at your house after work.” He hung up.

Eden stared at the phone.

“So —is it a date?”

“I don’t know what it is, but it’s most definitely not a date. I think I just made him mad.”

Kendra smiled. “Mad means he cares.”

“No. Mad means he feels trapped and is already regretting agreeing to this. This is going to be a disaster.”

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

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