As oncology nurse, Amber Delacroix, stepped from one of her patient’s room, her boss, Tammy White, headed toward her with tense shoulders and a haunted expression. She hesitated only a moment before wrapping an arm around Amber’s shoulders. Amber stiffened at the unexpected contact—and feared what it might mean.
“We need to talk,” Tammy said in a soft voice. And Tammy didn’t do soft.
Those ominous words “we need to talk” swam in Amber’s head, and her stomach tumbled. Something horrifying must have happened. Tammy never approached her unless it was serious.
“What’s wrong?” Amber’s voice shook.
Her boss escorted her down the hall into the break room. “Let’s sit down.”
Tammy motioned to the sofa. She sat next to Amber and inhaled deeply, the lines around her eyes and mouth appearing more pronounced than usual. When Tammy picked up Amber’s hand, an ugly sludge oozed through Amber’s veins.
She couldn’t stand the suspense. “Tell me.” Her voice cracked.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you that your brother was in a very bad motorcycle accident an hour ago.”
Amber’s heart stopped. That couldn’t be true. Intense pressure crushed her from all sides. “But he’s okay, right?” She needed to go to him. “Why didn’t I find out sooner?”
“Amber. Chris ran a red light. The paramedic on duty did everything he could to stabilize him, but his spinal cord was compromised and his spleen may have been damaged.”
Amber shook her head. “No.” Chris was a bit careless, but he was a good driver. She rubbed her temples, but Tammy’s words still stampeded through her brain. “I have to see him.” When she tried to stand, Tammy gently pulled her back down.
“He’s in good hands. Let the doctors do what they do best.”
Having their standard saying apply to her made Amber realize what her patients’ family members truly went through. Living Hell. A sob bubbled up and escaped.
Tammy rubbed her back. “It’ll be okay.”
No, it wouldn’t. Amber’s shoulders trembled. Poor Chris. She dropped her face in her hands and cried. When the tears finally stopped, Tammy stood. A few minutes later, she was back with a cup of tea and some crackers.
“Drink this. It’ll make you feel better.” She placed the package next to her.
Amber shook her head. Nothing would make her feel better. Upon Tammy’s prodding, Amber sipped the hot tea, but it didn’t dull the ache racing through her.
For over an hour, her boss remained by her side trying to comfort her, but nothing helped. The door had opened a few times and whispers sounded, but her boss must have shooed her coworkers away.
Tammy’s pager then went off, and when she looked at it, her jaw hardened.
Amber wiped her cheeks. “Go ahead and take it. I’ll be okay.”
“I hate to leave you.”
“It’s okay. You have a job to do.”
Tammy appeared torn. “I’ll check up on you.” She gave Amber one last hug and hurried out the door.
No longer able to sit, Amber stood, wrapped her arms around her stomach, and paced. She couldn’t believe this was happening.
She halted. Oh, God. She had to tell her mom. The thought of delivering the bad news made her stomach churn even worse. She wasn’t even sure she could say the necessary words.
Just do it.
Inhaling, she punched in her mom’s number, hoping she’d be free to talk. As head cardiac surgeon at the Oklahoma City Memorial Hospital, her mother could be with a patient or addressing a group of doctors somewhere in the country.
“Amber? Can I call you back? I’m having lunch with someone important.”
I’m not important? The hurt and anger from the past, combined with this recent blow, nearly drowned her. There never would be a good time for her mom, so she blurted out the terrible news. “No, Mom, you can’t. Chris was hit by a car.” She choked out another sob and rubbed her palms down her pants, trying to dry the perspiration. “He might be paralyzed.”
“Oh, my God. Was he driving that damned motorcycle of his? How many times have I warned him of the danger?”
“Is that all you can focus on? This is your son we’re talking about. Chris. Remember him?” Then she recalled that everyone grieved in different ways.
“Amber, don’t be insolent.”
Then don’t shut me out. “He was on his bike when a car ran into him.” The horrific part was that he was speeding and had run a red light, but she wasn’t about to share that bit of information now.
“What’s his prognosis?” Her mother’s tone came out cool and controlled. A far cry from Amber’s emotional reaction.
“It’s too early to tell. Can you come and be with him? He’ll want to see you when he wakes up.”
“Oh, darling, you know I would if I could, but there’s a huge benefit this weekend to raise money for the cardiac unit of the hospital, and I’m running the event.” Chatter and the clinking of glasses sounded in the background, implying she was at a restaurant. “Call me when you know more, and I’ll try to get up there.”
“You have to come. Chris needs you.”
“I’ll try.” Her mother disconnected.
You better do more than try. Amber sagged against the edge of the break room counter, her gut clenching. Every bit of pent up frustration shot to the surface. Why was she so disappointed at her mom’s response when she’d never been any other way? Once her older brother, Thomas, became a doctor, her mother’s mission in life had been fulfilled, and it seemed as if she’d said to hell with the rest of her kids.
One of the reasons her mother insisted Amber’s younger brother move from Oklahoma to Rock Hard, Montana was because she thought Amber might be able to tame him. Now apparently she’d failed at even that.
Amber shook the phone. “Fuck you, Mother.”
She didn’t know whether the dismissal or the hint of blame her mom seemed to be placing hurt more. Amber turned back around and looked in the mirror over the small kitchen sink. “It’s not my fault.” Christ. She looked like shit. The person with the red eyes, sunken cheeks, and brown wavy hair that had escaped its tie, mocked her.
Before she could do anything about her ragged appearance, the break room door burst open and Jamie Henderson rushed in. “Oh, Amber, I just heard.”
Her best friend, a hospice nurse at the hospital, embraced her, and the comfort helped unbind some of her muscles.
Jamie tried to soothe the hair around Amber’s face. “Maybe you should go home and rest. You need to be strong for him.”
Amber shook her head. “I can’t leave him.”
Jamie leaned back and squeezed her hand. “I found one of the doctors who worked on Chris.” Her smile looked forced. “He’s going to live.”
The words should have comforted her, but Chris’s definition of living might be different from Jamie’s. Amber sniffled. “Did they say when he’d be back in Intensive Care?”
“The doctors are looking at the CAT scan now.”
That didn’t answer her question. She hoped Chris needed surgery. If his spinal cord had been severed, there’d be nothing the doctors could do.
Amber wiped the moisture from under her eyes. “I should let them know where I am in case one of the doctors needs to get a hold of me.” For the first time, she noticed the small table wedged in the corner of the break room. It looked as lost as she felt.
Jamie gave her another hug. “I’m staying with you.”
“What about your patients?”
“Marla and Cherise are covering for me.”
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