For Better or Worse (Chapter Eight, page 1 of 1)

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Bill reluctantly left her at the hospital for the night. He said she needed to go home and get some rest. She couldn’t argue that point, but Alex might regain consciousness and she wanted to be there if he did. Jonathan would stay with Katie for the night and the Reynolds would keep Destiny. No one wanted to go back to the house until the man was apprehended.
Carmen slept fitfully in a chair in the waiting room all night. It wouldn’t have mattered if she had a comfortable bed, though. She couldn’t have slept much. Throughout the night she checked regularly to see if there was any change. By morning he still hadn’t regained consciousness and they were starting to use the word coma. They still seemed to think that he might wake up at any time, though. Tests revealed normal brain function, and there was no indication of any permanent damage.
By the time Bill arrived, Alex had stabilized to the point that she felt comfortable about leaving for a while. Exhausted and in need of a bath, she finally agreed to let him take her home.
As his car pulled away from the hospital, she looked up at the floor where Alex lay fighting for his life. She placed her hands on the window and leaned her forehead against the cool glass.
“Alex,” she moaned. “I love you so much.”
Tears flooded her eyes and coursed down her cheeks unchecked. The car came to a stop as a long agonizing sob erupted from her lungs.
A gentle hand touched her shoulder. “He’ll pull out of it, Carmen. He’s strong and healthy. Right now Destiny and Jonathan need someone strong to lean on.”
Of course; how could she have forgotten about them? She wiped the tears from her face and nodded.
“Thanks for reminding me.” She had to adopt a positive attitude. She couldn’t think of him in any way but recuperating.

They still hadn’t caught the red-headed man, but they had a regular patrol, so Carmen took Jonathan and Destiny home with her. As if they all didn’t have enough to worry about, as soon as Carmen put Destiny down inside their home, she started calling for Alex. Jonathan tried to tell Destiny that Alex wasn’t there, but she continued to look anyway. Finally, when she decided he wasn’t there, she began to cry. By the time she finally fell asleep, both Carmen and Jonathan were crying. Only after both Destiny and Jonathan fell asleep did Carmen take her shower and go to bed.
Long after she crawled into bed, she lay awake, thinking about Alex. Over and over she rehashed the stabbing. She hugged his pillow, thankful that she hadn’t changed the sheets yet. The smell of his cologne was soothing. She pretended he was out on a call and would be back sometime in the night. Imagination could only go so far, though, and she ended up crying herself to sleep.

He must live. For the next few days she clung to that thought as if her life were in the balance, not his. But he didn’t wake, and each day that passed made it less likely that he would come out of the coma.
Life continued, and so did the chores. As May gave way to June, the lengthening daylight hours gave her more time to be with Jonathan and Destiny and still complete taking care of the animals before darkness. Jonathan was out of school now, but he was going to camp weekdays. Bill usually came over in the evening to help, and sometimes Sean or Paul. Saundra, the clinic receptionist, volunteered her husband. Carmen protested, but he insisted that he wanted to help.
Paul was a quiet guy, the complete opposite of Saundra. Apparently opposites did attract. They had been happily married for twenty years. On the other hand, Joan and Sean had been married almost thirty years and they got along well. They shared a lot of dreams, the way Carmen and Alex did. All the Reynolds girls had lengthy marriages.
Carmen let out a long sigh. A week ago she might have pondered the longevity of their marriage. Today she would be happy simply to know that Alex would wake up.
Dr. Worthington took responsibility for the clinic and Carmen found the accountant’s number in the desk drawer. Brenda had been handling all Alex’s investments for years, so Carmen left that part to her. She had been taking care of everything to do with their homes for the last few years, so that was familiar territory.
The man who caused all this worry was still free. Since they still didn’t know why he attacked her or Alex, they considered it possible that he might return. She kept the doors locked and pulled Brutus in from the fields to walk with them when they did chores. Each morning she took Jonathan to camp before dropping Destiny off at Katie’s house and returning to the hospital.
One night after chores, Carmen, Jonathan and Destiny were eating supper when Brutus started barking. Carmen peeked out the window and saw the blue BMW. She stepped out the door and called Brutus back.
Lori looked shocked. “What happened to you? You look like you haven’t slept for a week!”
“Great count, Lori, and thanks. I guess you haven’t heard.”
“What? Did you and Alex break up?”
The smug expression on her face would have been more irritating if her words hadn’t revealed the fact that she didn’t know the seriousness of the situation.
“Alex is in the hospital.”
Her expression immediately became concerned.
“What’s the matter with him?”
“A man was waiting for me at the old house - a man with red hair.”
Lori’s expression became wary. “Oh? What does that have to do with Alex?”
“He attacked me and Alex came to my rescue.”
Lori looked anxious. “And the man beat Alex up?”
“And the man stabbed Alex with a knife.” Carmen’s voice broke.
Lori stared at her, a horrified expression on her face.
“He stabbed Alex? But . . . why? Is Alex . . .” She let the sentence hang, her eyes imploring Carmen.
“He’s alive, but he’s been in a coma for a week.”
“Oh my god!” Lori gasped. “Not Alex!” Tears flooded her eyes and she dug in her purse for a tissue. “Where is he?”
Carmen stared at her coldly. “Would it have been better if it were me, Lori? Is that who he was supposed to kill?”
Lori caught her breath. “He wasn’t supposed to kill anyone.” She stopped, her face going pale. “I didn’t send him to hurt anyone.”
“No, just break us up. Is that it? He was drunk, Lori. I don’t know what he would have done to me if Alex hadn’t interrupted. How could you, Lori? Alex didn’t do anything to you.”
“It isn’t like that at all,” Lori defended. When Carmen continued to watch her, she shrugged. “He looked so much like Josh. He was only supposed to pay attention to you, not hurt you – he wasn’t supposed to go into your house.”
When Carmen continued to watch her, she rolled her eyes. “Do you honestly think I’d send him into a place where Destiny was?”
Carmen gave her a sour look. “Right now I’m having difficulty deciding where you’d draw the line.” She flipped her phone open. “You need to tell the police where to find him.”
Lori looked frightened. “But they’ll think I sent him to kill Alex.”
Carmen sighed heavily. “I don’t really care what they think, Lori. All I know is that he did nearly kill Alex. I don’t want him coming back here to finish the job . . . do you?”
Lori shook her head, still obviously reluctant to talk to the police.
“Lori, you might be able to convince the police that you didn’t intend for him to hurt anyone, physically. But if he does some more freelance work after I told you what happened, you will be responsible.”
Her expression flipped from concerned to alarm.
“Let me call them.”
It didn’t matter who called them as long as the man was put where he could do no more harm. It would probably look better for Lori if she called. As Carmen turned back to the kitchen, Jonathan looked up at her, his eyes large with fear.
“Is Dad going to die?”
Carmen hugged him. “I hope not, Jonathan. The doctor says he is better.”
“Daddy?” Destiny stared up at her. Hopefully she wouldn’t start crying for him again. She had been doing that several times a day every since he went to the hospital.
Carmen sat back down at the table. When Lori ended the phone call, Carmen invited her to eat supper and was surprised when she accepted.
Lori sat down with her food and looked at each of them in turn.
“I’m sorry about all this. It all sounds so utterly stupid now. I never thought it would go this far.” She shook her head as if to clear her thoughts. “I wasn’t even thinking about the children.” She glanced at Destiny. “Poor Josh. I was such a fool. I threw everything away. I could have made things different between us. I’ve been thinking about that. I kept throwing Alex at him all the time. I blamed you and everyone else for the mess I made of my life. And then Josh started in on me about how much you wanted a baby and how Alex couldn’t . . .” She glanced at Jonathan and shrugged. “I convinced myself that you and I had married the wrong people.” She sighed. “Alex was right. I don’t love him. I never did. I just want what you two have. I blew my chance and now I may have destroyed yours.” She started to cry. “I’m so sorry.”
Watching her, it was hard to tell how much was theatrics and how much was real. Maybe she should be ashamed for thinking such a thing. If it was all true, Lori was really messed up. But then, that was obvious or she wouldn’t have hired someone the way she did. Jonathan stared at her, obviously confused. They shouldn’t have talked in front of him, but sending him to his room wouldn’t have left him feeling any better.
Carmen focused on Lori. “How did he know I was going to be at the house that morning? He was waiting for me.”
Lori stared at the table and mumbled. “I told him you would be there. Katie told me. I thought it would look like you were meeting him there.”
“But why? None of this would get Destiny back. In fact, it pretty much removes any possibility.”
“It wasn’t Destiny,” she said, and bit her lower lip. “It was the money.” When Carmen continued to stare at her, she threw her hands in the air. “I came back for the money, OK?” Her red-rimmed eyes implored Carmen to stop tormenting her. “I have so many bills . . .”
“But what about the car, and your clothes? We thought you were doing well.”
Lori moaned. “How do you think I got so far in debt so fast? You have to look like money to get money . . . unless you marry it.” Her accusing gaze came to rest on Carmen. “And then somehow it gets left to someone who doesn’t need it.”
“I’m sorry, Lori. Honestly, I didn’t have anything to do with that. I was shocked when they told me. But if you didn’t agree, why didn’t you contest it at the time? I mean, you could probably have won. I know we wouldn’t have fought you for it.”
Lori stared at her sullenly. “Sure, and everyone would have scandalized me for taking it away from his family and my own daughter. It was bad enough that I abandoned her.”
Carmen stared at her plate. Poor Lori. She didn’t want the baby, but at least she had given it to someone who wanted it desperately. She raised her head and looked Lori in the eye.
I’m sorry, Lori,” she said again. “You didn’t abandon Destiny. You can’t imagine how grateful Alex and I are to you for letting us adopt her. Sometimes it takes more courage to give a child up than it does to keep it when you don’t want it. Not everyone wants children. You knew how bad we wanted a child. That’s not selfish, Lori. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We all love Destiny so much and you knew we would provide a good home.”
Why had she never considered how difficult it had been for Lori? No wonder she went someplace where no one knew her past. They had to do something to help her. In fact, if she had stayed on the farm, they would have helped her. But she had left no contact – no trail. When she came back, they felt threatened, so they hadn’t even thought of her reasons. Of course she probably wouldn’t have said if they had asked.
The police arrived as they were finishing supper. A red-eyed Lori went out on the porch and talked to them while Carmen got Destiny ready for bed. After a while Lori came back in and said she was under arrest. She was crying again.
Destiny reached for her and Lori took her, holding her close. Destiny wrapped her arms around Lori’s neck.
The way children responded to unhappy people was touching. Even when they didn’t understand the cause, they empathized with the emotion.
Finally Lori left and the house was quiet. Carmen checked all the doors and windows to make sure they were locked. It had occurred to her that the man would come back because she could identify him. Knowing Lori had sent him put a different perspective on it. The man was there because Lori had sent him. How much more did the man know about her routine? But surely he knew by now that the police were after him. Still, she needed to be careful doing the chores – especially after dark.
From that point on, she made sure the chores outside were done before dark, and was always aware of things around her that could be used as weapons. She could have carried a gun, but that would have to be put down so many times that it wouldn’t be much help. And then there was the fact that it might frighten Jonathan. Many times she caught herself wondering what Alex would do and what he would want her to do under the circumstances. This was certainly a down side to having one person make the decisions.
One day, when Destiny was with Grandma Reynolds and Jonathan was at staying with a friend, she decided to go down to the house before she went to the hospital. It was still her house and there were a lot of good memories attached to it. Avoiding it wouldn’t change anything. She called Brutus and slowly walked down to the house. She opened the front door, which was still unlocked, and allowed Brutus to go in first. The dog sniffed around and stopped at a large blood spot on the floor.
Carmen stared at the spot, her heart going out to it as if Alex still lay there. A whiff of something dead assailed her nostrils, causing her stomach to turn. She turned and ran outside, retching. Brutus followed her, whining in response to her misery. She finally stopped retching and blew her nose. Sitting on the edge of the porch, she took deep breaths of the fresh air. The house would have to be cleaned and aired out.
She sat there for a long time, leaning against the porch post and thinking about the first time they had met. From the moment she met him, her heart had betrayed interest in him, even when she denied it. The way he had assumed command of the farm then had annoyed her, and yet, it had made him that much more appealing. Inside of two weeks, he had won her heart and left. Josh had called him a walk-away-Joe, but he was wrong. The way he had rescued her from the dogs, and from the fox in the chicken house - yes, there were a lot of wonderful memories on this farm. If only Mom and Dad had lived to meet him. They would have loved him. It was a nice thing to know. Even the Reynolds loved him, and they had every reason to dislike him for taking her away from their son.
And then Josh had died suddenly in the auto accident. Why had he put her in his will instead of his wife? Why not one of his sisters or brothers – or his parents? It simply didn’t make sense, and Josh was usually all about sense. Was he trying to humiliate Lori? Josh wasn’t a vindictive person. When she was in the hospital, he had paid her bill. But then, he thought they would soon be married and it would be his bill anyway. And yet, he had never been vindictive toward Alex. Or had he? Had he come over that stormy night while Alex was away with the intent of making Alex believe they were having an affair? But how would he have known Alex was going to call? He said he was looking for Lori, but why would he think Lori was there when he knew Alex was away?
She sighed and stood. The morning was slipping away and all the reflection on the past wasn’t achieving anything. All the answers had either died with Josh or would likely remain a secret with Lori.
For a minute she gazed longingly at the mountain. Right now she would love to go up there to Mom & Dad’s graves to talk to them. Only two other people knew about that place – Josh and Alex. Josh was gone and Alex didn’t want her going up there alone.
She walked back to their house with Brutus. Leaving Him on the porch with a bowl full of food, she climbed into the car and headed for the hospital.

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