For Better or Worse (Chapter Nine, page 1 of 2)

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Alex improved physically, but he remained in a coma. They had removed the endotracheal tube, but he still had a feeding tube through his nose. At least he didn’t look so critical now. The doctor said they could find no reason for him to stay in a coma, except the possibility of brain damage from lack of oxygen or blood loss. Tests gave no indication of an underlying cause. They said it might last as long as two weeks. No one said it, but internet research indicated that a coma which lasted more than two weeks might become permanent. Carmen tried to stay optimistic, but a part of her mind lingered fearfully on the thought that he might remain in a coma the rest of his life. Alex wouldn’t want to live that way.
The only advice she was given was to talk to him. Sometimes she brought a book and read to him, but most of the time she talked about the children, relatives and the animals. She never mentioned Lori or the man who had stabbed him – or anything else unpleasant. Every day she assured him of her love, even though he gave no indication that he heard. Every morning she shaved him with an electric razor. He would be embarrassed if he woke to find he looked like Rip Van Winkle.
One morning a distinguished looking Spanish man was walking out of the room as she entered. He looked at her in a strange way, and she turned around to watch him walk down the hall. He wasn’t a tall man, but he walked with the confidence of one. At first she thought he might have been a visitor of the other man in the room, but the family said he had asked for Alex, and had stayed with him for a little while. The idea of a stranger visiting Alex when he was so vulnerable concerned her, so she asked at the desk to find out who he was. No one knew, but they said they would watch for him. Apparently he had been there several times. Maybe it was one of his customers. Considering the last person she thought might be one of his customers, the idea wasn’t all that comforting.
Back at the room, she decided to hold Alex’s hand while she talked to him. It wasn’t something she liked to do, as his hand was so cold and lifeless. Still, it might help. She kissed his palm and spoke to him softly.
“Remember when we first met, Alex? Remember our first kiss? I was thinking about that the other day.”
Maybe it was her imagination, but it felt like he squeezed her hand – ever so slightly. She leaned forward, speaking into his ear.
“I was thinking about the way you rode up and saved me from those dogs. You were my knight in shining armor. Did you know that?”
His brows came down into a barely perceptible frown. He was responding! But after a few more attempts at rousing him, she was convinced that the frown was purely coincidence. Maybe she imagined his hand squeezing hers. She slid back into her chair and watched his still face. At first she had thought of him as being asleep, but in the last few days reality was beginning to sink in. He might never wake up, and if he did, he might be a vegetable the rest of his life. It was strange sitting beside him and longing for him to come back.
That night she and Jonathan picked up Destiny and then headed home. As they came up the drive, Carmen felt apprehensive. Everything looked normal, but she gave the house special attention and approached slowly.
At Jonathan’s inquiring look, she merely said, “Something doesn’t feel right.”
Jonathan wasn’t one to question intuition. He devoted his attention to scouting out clues. Carmen stopped the car in the drive and waited. Something she saw must have tipped her off, yet nothing looked out of place. She backed the car up to turn around.
“I’m going to go back down the road and look. Maybe we can’t see from here.”
Maybe she was spooked tonight, but long ago she had learned to listen to that instinct . . . gut feeling, some might call it. All too often it had been accurate. As she put the car in drive, something smashed the back window with a loud crash. All of them screamed, and a frantic backward glance revealed the back window shattered and ready to fall in. That was when she saw the man. She stomped on the accelerator and for a moment the wheels spun gravel. As she let up, they found traction and the car shot out of the driveway. Behind them the red-headed man followed for only a few seconds before turning back toward the house.
With shaking fingers, Carmen plucked the cell-phone from its pouch and dialed 911. After explaining the situation and giving her address, she turned down the road toward the nearest public area – a service station 2 miles away.
As they passed Josh’s house, she spied Lori’s car. It was hard to believe Lori would be behind this latest attack. Something else occurred to her and her stomach contracted. The blue truck was nowhere in sight. Maybe the man was driving Lori’s car. If so, Lori might be hurt somewhere. Ignoring the urge to go see if Lori was at the house, she continued down the road. She could do nothing without endangering both Destiny and Jonathan. Maybe it was too late to help Lori anyway.
The siren could be heard before the vehicle was seen, so Carmen pulled over. As the patrol car came over the hill, she rolled down her window and waved. The patrol car came to a stop beside her, the window down.

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