Between Sisters Page 53


Meghann slammed the photograph on the desk so hard the glass cracked. She pointed at someone in the picture. “Who’s that guy?”

Dr. Sussman leaned forward. “Joe Wyatt.”

“He’s a doctor?”

Claire looked at her sister. “You know Joe?”

“You know Joe?” Meghann said sharply.

“He’s a radiologist, actually.” It was Dr. McGrail who answered. “One of the best in the country. At least he was. He was a legend with MRIs. He saw things—possibilities—no one else did.”

Claire frowned. “Meghann, let go of it. We’re long past the need for a radiologist. And believe me, Joe wouldn’t be the one to ask for help. What I needed was a miracle.”

Meghann looked steadily at Dr. McGrail. She wasn’t even listening to Claire. “What do you mean he was the best?”

“He quit. Disappeared, in fact.”

“Why?”

“He killed his wife.”

TWENTY-EIGHT

THE RIDE HOME SEEMED TO LAST FOREVER. NO ONE SPOKE. When they got back to the condo, Bobby held Claire so tightly she couldn’t breathe, then stumbled back from her. “I need to take a shower,” he said in a broken voice.

She let him go, knowing what he needed. She’d cried a few tears of her own in Meghann’s expensive glass-block shower.

She went to the sofa, collapsed on it. She was tired and dizzy. There was a ringing in her ears and a tingling in her right hand, but she couldn’t admit any of that to Meghann, who had that bulldog don’t-quit look in her eyes.

Meg sat down on the coffee table, angled toward her. “There are all kinds of clinical trials going on. There’s that doctor in Houston—”

“The one the government tried to prosecute?”

“That doesn’t mean he’s a fraud. His patients—”

Claire held up a hand for silence. “Can we be real for just a minute?”

Meghann looked so stricken that Claire had to laugh.

“What?” Meg demanded.

“When I was little, I used to dream about getting some rare illness that would bring you and Mama to my bedside. I imagined you crying over my death.”

“Please, don’t . . .”

Claire stared at her sister, so pale now, and shaky. “I don’t want you to cry over it.”

Meg stood up so abruptly she banged her shin on the coffee table and swore harshly. “I . . . can’t talk about you dying. I can’t.” She couldn’t get out of the room fast enough.

“But I need you to,” Claire said to the empty room. A headache started behind her eyes again. It had been lurking nearby all day.

She started to lean back into the sofa when the pain hit. She gasped at it, tried to cry out. Her head felt as if it were exploding.

She couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. She tried to scream her sister’s name.

But the stereo was playing “Thunder Road” and the music swallowed her tiny voice.

Alison, she thought.

Then everything went dark.

Meghann stood by her sister’s bed, holding on to the metal bed rails. “Is the medication helping?”

Claire looked small in the hospital bed, delicate, with her pale, pale skin and patchy hair. Her attempt at a smile was heartrending. “Yeah. A grand mal seizure. Welcome to my new world. I guess the good news is I didn’t have a heart attack, too. How long will I be here?”

“A few days.”

“It’s time to call Mama.”

Meghann flinched. Her mouth trembled traitorously. “Okay.”

“Tell Dad and Ali and the Bluesers they can come down to see me, too. Gina can always make me laugh.”

Meghann heard the defeat in her sister’s voice; even worse was the acceptance. She wanted to disagree, to make her sister angry enough to fight, but her voice had abandoned her. She shook her head.

“Yes, Meg,” Claire said with a resolve that surprised Meg. “And now I’m going to go to sleep. I’m tired.”

“It’s the meds.”

“Is it?” Claire smiled knowingly. “Good night. And take care of Bobby tonight, okay? Don’t cut out on him. He’s not as strong as he looks.” Then she closed her eyes.

Meghann reached out. Being careful not to disturb the IV in Claire’s arm, she held her hand. “You’re going to be okay.” She said it at least a dozen times; every time she expected a response, but one never came. A few minutes later, Bobby walked into the room, looking haggard. His eyes were red and swollen.

“She woke up,” Meghann said gently. “And went back to sleep.”

“Damn it.” He took Claire’s hand in his and squeezed it.“Hey, baby. I’m back. I just went for a cup of coffee.” He sighed, said quietly, “She’s giving up.”

“I know. She wants me to call everyone. Tell them to come see her. How do we tell Ali this?” Tears stung her eyes as she looked up at Bobby.

“I’ll tell her,” Claire said quietly, opening her eyes. She smiled tiredly at her husband. “Bobby,” she breathed, reaching for him. “I love you.”

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Meghann couldn’t stand there another second. Every breath her sister exhaled seemed to whisper good-bye. “I’ve got phone calls to make. Bye.” She raced from the room.

Anything was better than standing there, trying to smile when it felt as if someone were ripping her heart apart. Even calling Mama.

It was late now; the night shift was on duty and the hallways were quiet. She went to the bank of pay phones and dialed Mama’s number.

Mama herself answered, sounding boozy and loud. “Hello, Frank?”

“It’s me, Mama. Meghann.”

“Meggy? I thought you prowled the bars this time of night.”

“Claire’s sick.”

“She’s on her honeymoon.”

“That was a month ago, Mama. Now she’s in the hospital.”

“This better not be one of your stunts, Meggy. Like the time you called me at work ’cause Claire had fallen out of bed and you thought she was paralyzed. I lost forty dollars in tips to find out she was asleep.”

“I was eleven years old when that happened.”

“Still and all.”

“She has a brain tumor, Mama. The radiation treatments didn’t work and no one has the guts to operate on her.”

There was a long pause on the other end; then, “Will she be okay?”

“Yes,” Meghann said because she couldn’t imagine any other response. Then, very softly, she said, “Maybe not. You should come see her.”

“I’ve got a Starbase IV event tomorrow at two, and a—”

“Be here tomorrow or I call People magazine and tell them you didn’t visit your daughter who has a brain tumor.”

It was a long moment before Mama said, “I’m no good with this sort of thing.”

“None of us are, Mama.” Meghann hung up without saying good-bye, then punched in the 800 number on her calling card and dialed Sam. The phone rang once and she lost her nerve. She couldn’t tell Sam this over the phone.

She slammed the receiver onto the hook and went back to her sister’s room.

Bobby stood by the bed, singing softly to Claire, who snored gently. It brought Meghann up short.

Bobby looked up at her. Tears glistened on his cheeks. “She hasn’t opened her eyes again.”

“She will. Keep singing. I’m sure she loves it.”

“Yeah.” His voice cracked.

Meg had never seen a man in so much pain; she knew the look in Bobby’s eyes matched her own. “I’m going to go tell Sam in person. I can’t give him this news over the phone. If Claire wakes up—” She caught herself. “When Claire wakes up, tell her I love her and I’ll be back soon. Do you have your keys to my place?”

“I’ll sleep here tonight.”

“Okay.” Meghann wanted to say something else but didn’t know what. So she left the room. She practically ran for her car. Once inside, she hit the gas and headed north.

Ninety minutes later, she reached Hayden. She slowed down through town, stopped at the light.

And there it was: the silver Quonset hut.

Joe Wyatt.

He’s a radiologist. Probably one of the best in the country. It came rushing back to her now, the stunning news that had been lost somehow, buried beneath a thick layer of grief.

Dr. Joseph Wyatt. Of course. No wonder he’d looked familiar. His trial had been front-page news. She and her colleagues had speculated about his fate over many a beer. She’d been firmly in his camp, certain he’d be acquitted. It had never occurred to her to wonder what had become of him after the trial.

Now she knew. He’d run away, hidden out. But he was still one of the best radiologists in the country. He saw things—possibilities—no one else did.

Yet when she’d come to him, sobbing about her sick sister, he’d done nothing. Nothing.

And he knew Claire.

“Son of a bitch.” She glanced sideways. The envelope from the hospital was on the passenger seat.

She turned the wheel hard and slammed on the brakes, parking along the curb. Then she grabbed the envelope and marched toward the cabin.

She pounded on the door, screaming, until she heard footsteps coming from inside.

When he opened the door, saw her, and said “What—?” she shoved him in the chest so hard he stumbled backward.

“Hey, Joe. Invite me in.” She kicked the door shut behind her.

“It’s practically midnight.”

“So it is, Doctor Wyatt.”

He sank onto the sofa and looked up at her.

“You held me. You let me cry in your arms.” Her voice trembled; the ache in her heart only made her madder. “And you offered a referral. What kind of man are you?”

“The kind who knows his hero days are behind him. If you know who I am, you know what I did.”

“You killed your wife.” At his flinch, she went on. “If I’d known your last name, I would have remembered. Your trial was a big deal in Seattle. The prosecution of the doctor who euthanized his dying wife.”

“Euthanasia is a prettier word than manslaughter.”

Some of the steam went out of her at the soft sadness in his voice. She’d learned about that kind of sorrow in the past month. “Look, Joe. In an ordinary world, I’d talk to you about what you did. I might even take you in my arms and tell you that I understand, that anyone with a drop of compassion in their soul would have done the same thing. That’s what your acquittal meant. I might even ask you about the road you’ve been on, the journey that led one of the country’s best radiologists to this place. But it’s not an ordinary world for me right now. My sister is dying.” She tripped over the word, felt the sting of tears. She tossed the oversize manila envelope on the coffee table in front of him. “These are her MRI films. Maybe you can help her.”

“I let my license lapse. I can’t practice medicine anymore. I’m sorry.”

“Sorry? Sorry? You have the power to save people’s lives and you hide out in this dump of a cabin drinking cheap scotch and feeling sorry for yourself? You selfish son of a bitch.” She stared down at him, wanting to hate him, hurt him, but she couldn’t imagine how to do either one. “I cared about you.”

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