Fly Away Page 53

“Do you think she’s going to die?” Marah asked.

He sighed, and it sounded so sad that she almost started to cry. “I don’t know.”

His hand was a lifeline suddenly. How had she forgotten that, how her dad could hold her steady? He’d always been able to, even back in the old days when Marah had fought with her mom constantly.

“She’s going to wake up,” Marah said, trying to believe it. Her mom used to say, Don’t stop believing until you have to, and certainly don’t stop then. Of course, she’d died anyway. “Do we just wait?”

Dad nodded. “I’m going to take the boys and your grandpa out for lunch. You know Wills has to eat every hour or he has a meltdown. You hungry?”

Marah shook her head.

“Dorothy and I are going for some coffee,” Grandma said, moving toward Marah. “It’s been a tough last few hours. You want to come with us? I’ll buy you a hot chocolate.”

“I’ll stay with her,” Marah said.

After everyone left, she stood at her godmother’s bedside, gripping the bedrails. Memories slipped in to stand beside her, crowded her on all sides. In almost all of her best childhood memories, Tully was there. She remembered Tully and Mom at Marah’s high school play, when Mom was so sick, all bald and hunched down in the wheelchair. From her place onstage, Marah had looked down at the two best friends and seen that they were both crying. Tully had leaned over and wiped the tears from Mom’s eyes.

“Tully?” Marah said. “Please hear me. I’m right here. It’s Marah, and I’m so sorry for what I did. I want you to wake up and yell at me. Please.”

September 12, 2010

10:17 A.M.

“I’m sorry,” Dr. Bevan said quietly.

Dorothy wondered if the man knew how often he’d said these words in the past week. If there was one thing they were all certain of, it was this: Dr. Bevan was sorry that Tully hadn’t wakened from her coma. He still handed out hope as if it were a bit of hard candy he kept in his pocket for emergencies, but the hope in his eyes had begun to dim. He’d ordered a tracheotomy on day two to maintain something called efficient aeration of the lungs; a nasogastric feeding tube had been inserted into her nostril and taped in place.

Tully looked like she was sleeping. That was what bothered Dorothy the most as she sat in this room, hour after hour. Every single second felt charged with possibility.

Each of the last eight days, she’d thought: Today.

Today Tully will wake up.

But each evening came, sweeping darkness into the room, and each evening her daughter’s unnatural sleep went on.

Now Dr. Bevan had called them here for a meeting. It could hardly be a good sign.

Dorothy stood in the corner, with her back to the wall. In her wrinkled clothes and orange clogs, she felt like the least important person in the room.

Johnny stood tall, with his arms crossed at his chest and his sons standing close. His grief revealed itself in tiny things—the places he’d missed shaving this morning and the way he’d misbuttoned his shirt. Margie looked smaller, hunched. This past week had whittled her down, added pain to a heart that had already been full of it. And Bud had hardly taken off his sunglasses. Dorothy often felt he was teary-eyed behind the dark lenses. But it was Marah, of all of them, who looked the worst. She was the walking wounded: thin, unbalanced. She moved as if each footstep needed to be calculated with care. Most people would look at the girl, with her freshly dyed black hair and baggy jeans and sweatshirt and pale skin, and see a grieving young woman, but Dorothy, who knew regret so well, saw guilt in Marah’s gaze, and she hoped—as they all did—that this half life of Tully’s would end with good news. Dorothy wasn’t sure that any of them could handle the opposite.

“It’s time,” Dr. Bevan said, clearing his throat to get their attention again, “to talk about the future. Tully has been primarily unresponsive for eight days. She has recovered adequately from her acute injuries and shows no substantial evidence of brain injury, but the evidence of cognitive awareness fails to meet the medical criteria for intensive ongoing rehabilitation. In layman’s terms, this means that although there have been some reports of her opening her eyes or—once—coughing, we believe it’s time to consider custodial care. A hospital is no longer the place for her.”

“She can afford—” Johnny began, but the doctor shook his head.

“Money isn’t the point, John. We treat critically ill patients. That’s what we do here.”

Margie flinched at that, edged closer to Bud, who put an arm around her.

“There are several exceptional nursing homes in the area. I have a list—”

“No,” Dorothy said sharply. She looked up slowly. Everyone was staring at her.

She swallowed hard. “Can … I take care of her at home?”

It was difficult not to squirm uncomfortably under the doctor’s pointed perusal. She knew what he saw when he looked at her. An old hippie with moderate-to-poor hygiene skills.

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But he had no idea what she’d survived just to be here. She lifted her chin, met the neurosurgeon’s narrowed gaze. “Is it possible? Can I care for her at home?”

“It’s possible, Ms. Hart,” he said slowly. “But you hardly seem…”

Margie pulled away from Bud, moved to stand by Dorothy. “She hardly seems what?”

A frown tugged at the doctor’s mouth. “It’s a complicated, difficult job, caring for a comatose patient. And single caretakers often find themselves overwhelmed. That’s all I meant.”

Johnny moved in to stand beside his mother-in-law. “I could come every weekend to help out.”

“Me, too,” Marah said, moving to Dorothy’s other side.

The twins stepped forward together, their gazes earnest and grown-up beneath the floppy overhang of their hair. “Us, too.”

Dorothy was surprised by the swell of emotion that filled her. She had never stood up for her daughter before, and no one had ever stood up for her. She wanted to turn to Tully and say, See, you are loved. Instead, she fisted her hands and nodded, holding back the stinging tears that blurred her vision.

“There’s a local company that specializes in care of comatose patients at home. It can be prohibitively expensive for most patients—and their families—but if money is not an issue, you could engage their services. A registered nurse could come to the house every day, or every other day, to change Tully’s catheter and check her corneas for ulceration and run some tests, but even so, it will take a lot of work, Ms. Hart. You’d have to follow a pretty rigorous routine. I won’t discharge her into your care unless you’re certain you’re up to it.”

Dorothy remembered all the times she’d let go of her daughter’s hand, or let her go in a crowd; all the birthdays she’d missed and all the questions she hadn’t answered. Everyone in this room knew Dorothy’s sad, pathetic history as a mother. She’d never packed Tully a school lunch or talked to her about life or said, “I love you.”

If she didn’t change now, reach out now, that would be their story.

“I’ll take care of her,” Dorothy said quietly.

“I’ll research the insurance and take care of all the financial and medical arrangements,” Johnny said. “Tully will have the best in home care possible.”

“The costs—and the coma—may go on for quite some time. It’s my understanding that she doesn’t have a living will, and that Kathleen Ryan is the executrix of her estate and has the power of attorney to make medical decisions on her behalf, and that Ms. Ryan is deceased.”

Johnny nodded. “We’ll take care of all of that as a family.” He looked at Dorothy, who nodded. “We can reassess later if we need to. I’ll talk to her business manager this week. Her condo is worth several million, even in this economy. We can sell it if we need to, but my guess is that she has the maximum insurance coverage.”

Marge reached over and held Dorothy’s hand. The two women looked solemnly at each other. “The house in Snohomish hasn’t sold yet. Bud and I could move back to help you.”

“You are amazing,” Dorothy said quietly. “But if you’re there, it will be too easy for me to let you be her mother. I need to be the person who is responsible. I hope you understand.”

Margie’s look said it all. “I’m only a phone call away.”

Dorothy released a heavy sigh.

There. It was done. For the first time in her life, she was going to be Tully’s mother.

September 12, 2010

6:17 P.M.

Johnny had spent most of the day with Tully’s business manager, Frank, going over her finances. Now he sat alone in his car on the ferry, with a stack of her financial records in the seat beside him.

He’d had no idea how her life had unraveled in the years since Kate’s death. He’d imagined her retirement from TV had been her choice, that the “book deal” had been lucrative and the beginning of yet another high-profile career. He would have found the truth easily—if he’d cared enough to look.

He hadn’t.

Ah, Katie, he thought tiredly. You are going to kick my ass for this …

Leaning back into his leather seat, he stared out through the ferry’s wide bow opening as the sandy hook of Wing Point came into view. When they docked, he drove over the bumpy metal ramp and onto the smooth asphalt of the road.

At the end of his driveway, the house was drenched in late afternoon light. It was the golden hour, that beautiful, crystalline time before sunset, when every color was crisp and clear. September was a good month in the Northwest, a repayment season for all the gray rainy days that were to come.

For the briefest of moments, he saw this place as it once had been. The house and yard—like everything else—had changed since Kate’s passing. Before, the yard had had a wild, untended look. His wife had always been “about to” start taming it. Back then, every plant and flower and shrub had grown too tall and spread too wide. Flowers had crowded in on each other like schoolyard bullies fighting for turf. There had always been toys strewn about—skateboards and helmets and plastic dinosaurs.

These days, the yard was orderly. A gardener came once a week and raked and clipped and mowed. The plants were healthier, the flowers bigger and brighter.

He pulled into the dark garage and sat there a minute collecting his thoughts. When he felt strong again, he went into the house.

As he stepped inside, the boys came running down the stairs, banging into each other, pushing and shoving. It was like watching Rollerball on a hill. He’d long ago stopped yelling at them about it or worrying that one of them would fall. This was just who they were. They were both dressed in blue and gold Bainbridge Island sweats and were wearing skater shoes that he swore were two sizes too big.

In the past few years they’d become a trio, he and the twins. Their time in Los Angeles had brought them closer together, and they’d been happy to move back here. And yet, he could see fissures forming in their relationship. Both of them, but especially Wills, had begun to keep secrets. Wills had begun to answer ordinary questions evasively. “Who was that on the phone?” was a good example. “No one.” “Oh, so you’re talking to no one?” Like that.

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