Doc Thayer kneaded his lower back with his fists as he straightened from SueAnna’s bedside. “I don’t know what it is about this place, but seems like there’s one emergency after another out here. Adam, I could sure use a cup of coffee—very strong and black. Ben woke me from a good night’s rest and wouldn’t give me time for a wake-up cup.”
Trey was still on his knees beside SueAnna where he’d been since bringing her in and laying her on the bed. “Is she going to live, Doc?”
“That depends, Trey.” Doc removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “She took a mighty hard blow to the head when she fell. But she’s young and healthy. That’s in her favor. The rest is up to SueAnna and the Lord. I can’t make any promises. She’d rest a whole lot better if you’d get her into her night clothes, that’s for sure.”
“I…I can’t do that, sir.”
“What do you mean you can’t do it? You never help her undress before?”
“No, sir. We…we never—”
Fred Thayer looked at Adam, then back at Trey. “Are you telling me, son, that after all this time you haven’t claimed her for your wife? Get out of here, then. I don’t suppose she’d take lightly to waking up and finding out you were the one that put her in her nightgown.”
“Good! I’m glad you turned red. At least you got sense enough to feel stupid about it. Now get, I’ll open the door when you can come back in. I don’t reckon you can even tell me where I might find the clothes she needs?”
“No, but I can ask Lily.” Trey moved to the door.
‘Yeah, well you do that, then hoof it back up here and tell me. In the meantime, I’d appreciate that cup of coffee.”
When he left, Fred faced Adam. “What’s wrong with that boy?”
“I’m afraid he takes after me. From what little he told me, he tried to talk with her about a fresh start. She knows about Claire, and he couldn’t promise not to think about her. Guess she was running back to the house and stumbled on the step.”
Doc slumped into the nearest chair. “This is a hard thing to say, Adam, and maybe a harder thing to hear…but the reaping definitely comes in a different season, doesn’t it?”
Adam sat on the settee beside his friend. “Truth is often hard to hear, Fred. Thanks for being faithful enough to spout it right out. Does the reaping ever stop?”
“Not for me to say, my friend. Guess it depends on how much you sowed in the first place. And how long you keep on sowing.”
Trey was back with the coffee. “Lily won’t tell me where SueAnna keeps her gowns—says she’s mad at me—but Miss Libby told me to look in the top drawer.”
Was this young man for real? “For the love of…I can’t believe we’re taking orders from a rag doll. Get on out of here, and I’ll find stuff I need myself.”
Trey didn’t move.
“Get, I said.” Doc gave him a shove toward the door. “I’ll come down and talk with you when I get this little lady comfortable.” He shut the door behind them and shuffled to the tall chest.
Later he sat with the two men around the kitchen table. Ben had sensed the seriousness of Doc’s findings, and offered to take Lily with him for a ride. Adam poured fresh coffee into Fred’s cup, then filled his own and Trey’s.
“How bad is she hurt?” Trey’s voice shook. “Why won’t she wake up? I sat with her the whole time Ben was riding to fetch you, and she never moved. Shouldn’t she be waking up? It’s been all night.”
Fred ran his fingers around the edge of the gold-rimmed cup. How he hated conversations such as this. No answers to give, nothing on which to pin hope. “Unfortunately, we don’t have any way of looking inside a body. From what I can tell from the outside, it was just a bump on the head. That shouldn’t be causing her to stay asleep so long. The swelling has already started to go down, and there is very little bruising.” He spooned sugar into his coffee.
“What are you saying? What’s wrong with her then?” Trey peered at him through bloodshot eyes.
“What goes on in a person’s head is a question that may never be answered. And I can almost assure you that when what goes on in a woman’s head will never be answered. I’ve only seen a couple of cases that even remotely come close to this—one lived, and the other didn’t.”
Adam pounded the table. “Would you please stop chasing the monkey around this table, Fred, and spit it out?”
“Okay, you want my opinion? I think the head injury has nothing to do with why she’s still not awake. I don’t think the bump on her head is the problem at all. I think it’s her heart.”
“You mean her hear stopped?” Trey shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
“No, not stopped. But I do think the poor girl’s heart is nearly broke in two. Have any of you hard-headed men around here ever stopped to think what this little gal has been through? I think she just doesn’t care anymore if she lives or dies.”
He raised his hand to stop Adam from speaking. “I’ve got the floor, if you don’t mind. Now, you don’t have to believe me, and only time will tell, but if she wakes up somebody around here better be ready to give this lady the love and attention she needs—or make sure she gets somewhere where she will get it. I hear tell the new preacher knows her from childhood. Maybe he’s the one who can help.”
Trey slammed his hand against the wall. “She don’t need the preacher’s help. She’s my wife,” he shouted.
“And she knows how you feel, does she?” He stood and faced Trey. “You’ve told her over and over again, right? And she’s been able to count on your attention every minute, is that correct? Tell me, Trey. Just what do you know about this girl? When’s her birthday? What’s her biggest fear? Does she have a dream?”
Trey leaned toward him. “I don’t know anything about her…but I will. By the time she wakes up I will know how many hairs are on her head. And by all that’s holy, Fred Thayer, I will know the answer to any question you could ever think up before she gets out of that bed and walks again.” He spun around the strode to the door.
“And just where do you think you’re going, young man?” Fred yelled.
“I’m going to my wife, Doctor. Does that meet with your approval?”
“Only if you can promise her, if and when she wakes up, that you are through letting this Claire gal interfere with that thing you call a brain. If you can’t do that, then you stay away from her. You hear me?”
“Loud and clear. Now may I be excused.”
Doc didn’t have a chance to answer. He shook his finger at Adam. “That boy better be telling the truth or there will be thunder to pay, and I’ll make sure he pays it, Adam. So far I’ve been able to fix what body parts you two have managed to booger up, and I can’t fix a broken heart.”
He took one last swig of his coffee. “I’ll be back in a couple of days. Lydia Jensen is about due to have her sixth baby and though she probably doesn’t need my help, Hank does. Never saw a body so useless when it comes to have a wife in labor as that man. Seems to make them just fine, but can’t get them here without passing out. Any big change in SueAnna, you send Ben running to fetch me.”