"Are you telling me the truth? Is Mom really okay?"
"That's the truth as I heard it. Is your sister sleeping?"
"She was until the phone rang. We knew it had to be about Mom. My friends wouldn't call in the middle of the night," she said with such vehemence that Jack suspected they had done it more than once. "Dad, we want to go to the hospital, but Duncan won't take us."
"Is he there now?"
"He's asleep on the chair. Asleep at a time like this. Can you believe it? Wait, I'll put him on. Tell him to drive us up." She shouted away from the phone, and even then it hurt Jack's ears, "Duncan! Pick up the phone! It's my father!"
"Samantha!" Jack called to get her back.
Her reply was muffled. "No, Mom is not dead, but that cat will be if you don't let her go. You're holding her too tight, Hope. You'll hurt her." She returned to Jack. "Here. Hope wants to talk."
"Daddy?" The voice was a fragile wisp.
Jack's heart shifted. "Hi, Hope. How're you doin', sweetie?"
"I figured that, but your mom's doing fine right now. I'm on my way to the hospital. I'll know more when I get there."
"Come here," begged the small voice.
"I will," he said, melting at the idea that at least one of his girls needed him. "But the hospital's on the way, so I'll stop there first. Then I'll have more to report when I see you."
"Tell Mom --" She stopped.
Samantha came on. "She's crying again. Here's Duncan."
"Duncan Bligh here." The voice was curt. "What's the word?"
Jack wanted Hope back. But it wasn't his night. "The word is that I don't know much. I'll be at the hospital within the hour. Don't drive them up."
"I wasn't about to."
There was a muted protest in the background, then an aggrieved Samantha returned. "Daddy, it's sick sitting around here while she's there."
"It's the middle of the night."
"Like we can sleep with her there? She's our mother. What if she asks for us?"
"She's in surgery, Samantha. Even if you were at the hospital, you wouldn't be able to see her. Look, if you want to do something, help your sister. She sounds upset."
"And I'm not?"
Jack could hear the tight panic that was taking her voice a step beyond brash. But Samantha wasn't Hope. Two years apart in age, they were light-years apart in personality. Samantha was fifteen going on thirty, a little know-it-all who didn't take kindly to being treated like a child. Thirteen-year-old Hope was sensitive and silent. Samantha would ask the questions. Hope would see every nuance of the answers.
"I'm sure you're upset, too," he said, "but you're older than she is. Maybe if you help her, she'll help you. Give each other strength, y'know?"
"I keep thinking about Highway One, Dad. Some of those places, if you go over the side, you fall hundreds of feet straight down, right onto rocks. Was that what happened to Mom?"
"I don't know the details of the accident."
"She might have fallen into water, but that'd be nearly as bad. Like, what if she was stuck underwater in the car --"
"Sam, she didn't drown."
"You don't know that. You don't know whether the only thing that's keeping her alive is a bunch of machines."
"Samantha." She was nearly as creative as Rachel, without the maturity to channel it. "Your mother has a broken leg."
"But you don't know what else," she cried. "Call the troopers. They'll tell you what happened."
Reproduced with the permission of Simon & Schuster.
Copyright © 1998 by Barbara Delinsky.
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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