"Maybe later. The doctor has my cell number. I want to leave the line open in case he tries to call. And I want you to go to bed. It doesn't do anyone any good if you start imagining what might have happened. Imagination's always worse. So calm down. I'm in control of things here. And don't sit up waiting for the phone to ring, because I'm not calling you again until after the sun comes up.
"I'm not going to school."
"We'll discuss that later. Right now, the one thing you can do to help your mother most is to reassure your sister. And get some sleep. Both of you."
"Yeah, right," she muttered.
JACK CONCENTRATED on driving. The fog had stayed in the city, leaving the highway dark and straight. He pressed his middle in the hope that the warmth of his hand would ease the knot there, but his palm was cold and the knot stayed tight. Nerves did that to him every time. Lately, it seemed the knot was there more often than not.
He willed the phone to ring with the news that Rachel had awoken from surgery and was just fine. But the phone remained still, the interior of the car silent save the drone of the engine. He tried to distract himself with thoughts of all he had been agonizing over in bed less than two hours before -- contract disputes, building delays, personnel losses -- but he couldn't connect with those problems. They were distant, back in the city fog.
He would have calls to make, come morning. There were meetings to reschedule.
Or if Rachel woke up, he might be back in the office by noon.
That was likely, the more he thought about it. Rachel was the strongest, healthiest woman he knew -- strongest, healthiest, most independent and self-sufficient. She didn't need him. Never had. Six years ago, she had reached a fork in the road of her life and gone off in a different direction from him. Her choice. Her life. Fine.
So why was he heading south? Why was he postponing even one meeting to run to her bedside? She had left him. She had taken ten years of marriage and crumpled it up, like a sketch on yellow trace that was so far off the mark it was worthless.
Why was he heading south?
He was heading south because her friend had called him. And because it was his job as a father to help out with the girls. And because he was terrified that Rachel might die. His life with her had been better than anything before or since. He was heading south because he felt that he still owed her for that.
THE VERY FIRST time Jack had laid eyes on Rachel, he decided that she wasn't his type. Oh, he liked blond hair, and she had endless waves of that, but he usually went for model types. Rachel Keats didn't fit that bill. She looked too pure. No long eyelashes, no glossy mouth, no flagrant sexuality, just dozens of freckles scattered over a nose and cheeks that were vaguely sunburned, and eyes that were focused intently on the most boring professor Jack had ever heard.
The subject was rococo and neoclassic art. The professor, renowned in his field, was the man whose grant was paying for Jack's architectural degree. In exchange for that, Jack graded exams and papers and helped with research and correspondence to do with the textbook for which the grant had been given.
Jack was only marginally interested in rococo and neoclassic art and even less interested in moving from Manhattan to Tucson, but the slot had been the only one open that offered a full ride plus a stipend. Being penniless, Jack needed both.
The job wasn't taxing. The professor in question had been delivering the same lectures, from the same printed lesson plan, for twenty-plus years. Since Jack read the lectures beforehand, his presence in the lecture hall was more for the sake of fetching water or a forgotten book or paper for the professor than anything educational for himself. He sat far off to the professor's side, where he could be easily accessed. It was a perfect spot from which to view the fifty-some-odd students who attended a given class, out of three times that many enrolled in the course.
Reproduced with the permission of Simon & Schuster.
Copyright © 1998 by Barbara Delinsky.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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