Read While My Sister Sleeps Online

Authors: Barbara Delinsky

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #King; Stephen - Prose & Criticism, #Family, #American Horror Fiction, #Juvenile Fiction, #Running & Jogging, #Family Life, #Sports & Recreation, #General, #Fiction - General, #Myocardial infarction - Patients, #Sagas, #Marathon running, #Sisters, #Siblings, #Myocardial infarction, #Sports, #Domestic fiction, #Women runners, #Love stories

While My Sister Sleeps (4 page)

MOLLY
followed the others to the ICU and watched the team get Robin settled. At one point she counted five doctors and three nurses in the room, as frightening as it was reassuring. Monitors were adjusted and vital signs checked, while the
respirator breathed in and out. Every minute or two someone spoke loudly to Robin, but she didn't respond.

Kathryn left the bedside only when a doctor or nurse needed access. The rest of the time, she held Robin's hand, stroked her face, urged her to blink or moan.

As Molly watched from the wall, she was haunted by the knowledge that her mother was right. If Robin had started breathing sooner, there would be no brain damage. If Molly had been with her, Robin would have started breathing sooner.

But she wasn't the only one who had let Robin down. She couldn't blame her mother for being frantic back in the ER, but where was her father? He was supposed to be the calm one. What had he been
thinking
letting Kathryn go on like that? Even Chris could have spoken up.

They didn't have the guts, Molly decided, and then modified the thought. They
knew
better.

You have issues. You've always had issues with Robin.
She knew her mother was upset, but Molly was feeling guilty enough to be flayed by the words. As the minutes passed and the machines beeped, she remembered occasionally deleting a phone message, buying the wrong energy bar, misplacing a favorite running hat. Each offense could be balanced with something good Molly had done, but the good was lost in the guilt.

Chris left at midnight, her father at one. Charlie had tried to get Kathryn to leave with him, to no avail. Molly suspected that her mother feared something awful would happen if she wasn't there to stand guard. Kathryn had always been protective of Robin.

Hoping her own presence might go a little way toward making up to Kathryn for what she had not done earlier that day, Molly stayed longer. By two, though, she was falling asleep in
her chair. “Are you sure I can't drive you home?” she asked her mother.

Kathryn barely looked up. “I can't leave,” she said and added, “Why weren't you with her, Molly?” with a speed suggesting she was brooding about just that.

“I was at Snow Hill,” Molly tried to explain. “The management meeting, remember? I didn't know how long it would run. How could I commit to Robin?” There was also the issue of the cat. But putting a cat before her sister was pathetic.

Kathryn didn't ask how long the meeting had run. She didn't even ask how it had
gone.
If she was brooding, it was about Molly's negligence toward Robin, not about Snow Hill.

And Molly was guilty. That thought beat her down, before she finally broke the silence by asking, “Can I get you something, Mom? Coffee, maybe?”

“No. But you can cover for me at work.”

Startled, Molly blew out a little breath. “I can't go to work with Robin like this.”

“You have to. I need you there.”

“Can't I do something here?”

“There's nothing to do here. There's plenty to do at Snow Hill.”

“What about Dad? Or Chris?”

“No. You.”

She doesn't want me around
, Molly realized, her feeling of devastation growing. But she was too tired to beg for mercy, too wiped out even for tears. After asking Kathryn to call her if there was any change, she slipped out the door.

OLLY'S COTTAGE FACED SOUTH, BRINGING YEAR-
round sun to the loft, while the forest behind the backyard shaded the bedrooms and scented the air with pine. Molly had learned of it by accident when its owner, who was leaving New Hampshire for Florida, came to the nursery looking for a home for dozens of plants. Now the owner wanted to renovate and sell, so Molly and Robin were being kicked out.

Molly thought the vintage kitchen was just fine. She loved the weathered feel of the wide-planked floors and casement windows. Although Robin complained that the place was drafty and the rooms dark, she didn't really care where she lived. She was gone half the time—to Denver, Atlanta, London, L.A. If she wasn't running a marathon, half marathon, or 10 K, she was leading a clinic or appearing at a charity event. Most of the cartons in the living room were Molly's. Her sister didn't have many things to pack.

Robin was happy to move. Molly was not, but she would go along, just to have Robin be her old self again.

Waiting for her mother's call, Molly slept with the phone in her hand, far from soundly. She kept jolting awake with the hollow feeling of knowing something was wrong and not remembering what it was. Too soon she'd recall, then lie awake, frightened. Without Robin getting up to ice one body part or another, the house was eerily quiet.

At six a.m., needing companionship, Molly looked for the cat. It had eaten and used the litter. But the creature was nowhere to be found, though Molly searched even harder than she had the night before. She had been wasting time then, wanting Robin to wait for
her
for a change. How petty
that
had been. Brain damage was light years worse than a torn-up ankle or knee.

Of course, Robin may have woken up by now. But who to call? Molly couldn't risk dialing her mother, didn't want to waken her father, and Chris was no use. The station at the ICU would give only an official status report. Critical condition? She didn't want to hear that.

So she watered and pruned the philodendron in the loft, picked hopeless leaves off an ill ficus, misted a recovering fern—all the while whispering sweet nothings to the plant until she ran out of sweet nothings to say, at which point she put on jeans and drove to the hospital. Preoccupied, she went straight to intensive care, hoping against hope that Robin's eyes would be open. When they weren't, her heart sank. The respirator was soughing, the machines blinking. Little had changed since she'd left the night before.

Kathryn was asleep in a chair by the bed, her head touching Robin's hand. She stirred at Molly's approach and, groggy, looked at her watch. Tiredly, she said, “I thought you'd be at the nursery by now.”

Molly's eyes were on her sister. “How is she?”

“The same.”

“Has she woken up at all?”

“No, but I've been talking to her,” Kathryn said. “I know she hears. She isn't moving, because she's still traumatized. But we're working on that, aren't we, Robin?” She stroked Robin's face with the back of her hand. “We just need a little more time.”

Molly remembered what the doctor had said about the lack of response. It wasn't a good sign. “Have they done the MRI?”

“No. The neurologist won't be here for another hour.”

Grateful that her mother wasn't yelling about the wait, Molly gripped the handrail.
Wake up, Robin
, she urged and searched for movement under Robin's eyelids. Dreaming would be a good sign.

But her lids remained smooth. Either she was deeply asleep or truly comatose.
Come on, Robin
, she cried with greater force.

“Her run was going well until she fell,” Kathryn remarked and brought Robin's hand to her chin. “You'll get back there, sweetie.” She caught a quick breath.

Thinking she had seen something, Molly looked closer.

But Kathryn's tone was light. “Uh-oh, Robin. I almost forgot. You're supposed to meet with the Concord girls this afternoon. We'll have to postpone.” As she glanced up, she tucked her hair behind her ear. “Molly, will you make that call? She's also scheduled to talk with a group of sixth graders tomorrow in Hanover. Tell them she's sick.”

“Sick” was a serious understatement, Molly knew. And how not to be sick in this place—with lights blinking, machines beeping, and the rhythmic hiss of the respirator as a steady reminder that the patient couldn't breathe on her own? Between phones and alarms, it was even worse out in the hall.

Molly had had a break from it, but Kathryn had not. “You look exhausted, Mom. You need sleep.”

“I'll get it.”

“When?” she asked, but Kathryn didn't answer. “How about breakfast?”

“One of the nurses brought me juice. She said that the most important thing now is to talk.”

“I can talk,” Molly offered, desperate to help. “Why don't you take my car and go home and change? Robin and I have lots to discuss. I need to know what to do with the boxes of sneakers in her closet.”

Kathryn shot her a look. “Don't touch them.”

“Do you know how old some of them are?”

“Molly…”

Molly ignored the warning. There was normalcy in arguing. “We have to be out in a week, Mom. The sneakers can't stay where they are.”

“Then pack them up and bring them home with the rest of your things. When you find another place, we'll move them there. And then, of course, there's the issue of her car, which is parked on the side of the road somewhere between here and Norwich. I'll send Chris to get that. I still can't believe you didn't drive her there.”

Molly couldn't either, but that was hindsight. Right now, Robin made absolutely no show of hearing the conversation. And suddenly, for Molly to pretend that any part of this was normal didn't work. To be talking about old sneakers, when the runner was on
life support?

Heart in her throat, she searched Robin's face. As a child, Molly had often waited for her sister to wake up, eyes glued to her face, hopes rising and falling on each breath. Molly would be grateful for
any
movement now.

“If you need help packing,” Kathryn offered, “ask Joaquin. Check his schedule when you get to Snow Hill.”

“I really want to stay here,” Molly said.

“This isn't about what you want, Molly. It's about what'll help most. Someone has to be at Snow Hill.”

“Chris will be there.”

“Chris can't communicate with people. You can.”

Molly felt tears spring up. “I'm a
plant
person, Mom. I communicate with
plants.
And this is my
sister
lying here. How can I work?”

“Robin would want you to work.”

Robin
would? Molly fought hysteria. Robin had never worked a forty-hour week in her life. She ran, she coached, she waved, she smiled—all in her own time. She had an office at the nursery and, nominally, was in charge of special events, but her active involvement was minimal. On the day of those events, she was away more often than not. She was an athlete, not a wreath-maker or a bonsai specialist, as she had told Molly more than once.

But to repeat that to Kathryn now would be just as cruel as asking aloud what would happen if Robin never woke up.

SNOW
Hill had been family-owned since its inception over thirty years before. Spread over forty acres of prime land on New Hampshire's border with Vermont, it was renowned for trees, shrubs, and garden supplies. But its crown jewel—with solar panels that stored summer heat for winter use, a mechanism for recycling rainwater, and computer-regulated humidity control— was a state-of-the-art greenhouse. That was Molly's domain.

Even after stopping to see Robin, she was the first to arrive at Snow Hill. The greenhouse had been Molly's childhood
haven in times of stress, and though she no longer scrunched into corners or hid under benches, she found the surroundings therapeutic when she was upset. For all its technological advancement, it was still a greenhouse.

The cats greeted her with rubs and meows. Counting six, she scratched heads and bellies, then she uncoiled hoses and began watering plants. While the cats scampered, she moved from section to section, watering heavily here, lightly there. Some plants craved daily drink, others preferred to dry out. Molly catered to each.

A bench of overturned potted plants suggested that rabbits had visited during the night, likely chased off by the cats, who were effective guards, though not known for neatness. Setting the hose aside, Molly righted the plants, retamped soil, removed bruised leaves, then swept up. After spraying the last of the dirt down the drain, she resumed watering.

The sun wasn't high yet, but the greenhouse was bright. This early hour, before the heat rose, was definitely the time to water. And Molly enjoyed it as much as her plants did. When the spray glistened in oblique rays of sun and the soil grew moist and fragrant, the greenhouse was peaceful. It was predictable.

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