Caught by the Tide Ch. 06byevanslily©
I smiled as I finished wiping toast crumbs away from the kitchen counter tops, hearing the slight wheedling tone to my sister's voice. "Yes?"
"Could you bring me another cup of tea? Ple-ease?"
"Oh, I don't know. That's going to cost you."
I grinned, already pouring water from the freshly boiled kettle into Sarah's mug. "Oh, I don't know. Let me think," I called back, adding just a dash of milk and immediately fishing out the tea bag. "Gnat's pee," I muttered to no one in particular, looking at the colour of the liquid with distaste. But that was exactly how Sarah liked it. I scooped up the mug and carried it into the lounge, setting it down on the coffee table in front of her. "I know. How about you give me your first born child?"
"Ha ha." Sarah gave a groan as she struggled to sit upright, her massive belly swaying with the effort. "You can have it, okay? You can have it right now if you like. Even better, you can give birth to it."
"Hmm." I acted as though I was genuinely considering her offer for a few seconds then shook my head. "Tempting but no. You got yourself into this mess--you can get yourself out of it."
"Thanks a lot." Sarah grimaced at me as I collapsed into the armchair opposite hers. "You just wait until this happens to you. I'll have no sympathy at all."
"Hey!" I pretended to be offended. "I've made you three cups of tea and two slices of toast since I've been here--and I've only been here an hour. If that's not sympathy, I don't know what is."
"I'm just getting you into practice for when Mum comes home tomorrow," Sarah said, smiling sweetly now. "If you think I'm demanding on the tea front..." There was no need to finish the sentence. We both knew Mum could drink tea until it came out of her ears.
"I still can't believe she's actually coming home," I said, settling back in my chair and tipping my head to look up at the ceiling. "When I think about how ill she was..."
"I know." I heard Sarah breathe a sigh. "She's done amazingly well."
That first night in the hospital had been the worst. We'd taken it in turns to sit quietly by her bed, none of us knowing quite what to say, how to react; afraid to hope for the best in case the worst happened. I'd spent half my time willing her to cling to life, the other half praying that if the end had to come, that it would come swiftly, so she wouldn't have to suffer any more.
Then, almost as quickly as she'd become ill, she'd begun to get well. By Sunday evening, much of the colour was back in her cheeks, the light back in her eyes. On Wednesday she'd been moved out of the Coronary Care Unit to one of the general medical wards, but the investigations had continued, much to my mother's disgust. X-rays, ECGs, various scans--I hadn't been able to keep track of them all. And although there were still a few more tests to be carried out, the cardiologist told us he was optimistic that the damage to her heart wasn't permanent.
"So when are you going to tell her?"
Startled, I lowered my gaze. "Tell her what?"
Sarah lifted her mug to her lips and took a sip, her eyes remaining steady on mine. "That you and Daniel aren't getting back together."
I looked at her, uncertain whether she was merely fishing. "Wh-what?"
"Come on, Becky. I'm pregnant and my brain's a bit pickled, but you don't really think I'm that stupid, do you?"
"I--I don't know what you mean." Ridiculously, my heart started to beat a little faster. "It's going to take a little while for Daniel and me to get over what happened, of course--but we'll get there."
"Really?" Sarah raised her eyebrows. "And just who, exactly, are you trying to convince?"
I stared at her open-mouthed, wondering how on earth she'd guessed at my inner turmoil. I'd tried so hard to bury my feelings, hiding them behind the smile I kept plastered to my face during the day, only allowing myself to examine them when alone in bed at night . "It'll be okay," I muttered at last. "You know--" I went on hastily, starting to push myself to my feet "--I think I'll go and get myself a cuppa. I didn't think I wanted one, but maybe I do after all--"
"Sit down!" Sarah interrupted, fixing me with a glare. "Don't you dare make me get up. Have you any idea how hard it is right now? I need a bloody crane. Sit down."
I sat. I'd already learned not to argue with a pregnant sister.
"I want the truth. No bullshit, do you understand?"
I swallowed. "Uh oh."
"Uh oh, indeed." Sarah looked grim. "What the hell's going on in your head? Are you seriously trying to tell me you're going to throw your life away on a tosser like Daniel?"
Tosser. Tosser Foster... I closed my eyes briefly, trying hard to push away the memories of Luke. "He's not a tosser."
"Oh really?" She shook her head. "Becky, you know I liked him--I used to think he was great, just like everyone else. But you can't get away from the fact he cheated on you."
"He knows he made a mistake."
"A mistake?" The disbelief was evident in Sarah's face. "My God. That's the understatement of the decade."
"But he says it's over. He says he still loves me." Even as I said the words, I knew how pathetic they sounded.
"Oh right. Well that's okay then." She rolled her eyes. "And you've talked everything through, yes? Had a long, in-depth discussion about why it happened in the first place, what he'll do if he ever gets tempted to do it again? And you've told him that he ever does do it again, you'll chop off his balls with a rusty spoon?"
I didn't reply. But I guessed she already knew I wouldn't be able to.
"You've not talked things over at all, have you?" she said, her tone much gentler now.
"There--there hasn't been time," I said, feeling rather feeble. "To start with--well, you know what it was like--I couldn't think about anything other than Mum. And of course, he's been at the flat while I've been staying at Mum's." It'd seemed pointless to force him to move out. As I planned to stay on at Mum's house for as long as she needed me, I'd told Daniel he might as well carry on living there for now. "We haven't really had a chance to talk."
"Bullshit. You don't want to talk to him."
"You've had plenty of chances to talk to him. You see him every day at the hospital for a start."
"I can't talk to him there! Mum loves seeing him, you know that. She really brightens up when he's there."
"Yes I know she does. As far as she's concerned, the sun shines out of his backside. And you know why. To her, he's the son she never had--the son she always wanted. We've heard her say it a thousand times. But Becky, you can't forgive him just because she can't let him go."
"But I told her we were getting back together."
Sarah nodded slowly. "I know you did, honey. I was there. We were all there." She leaned forward as I looked at her in despair, reaching out a hand to cover mine. "And I know why you did it. You thought she was dying. You wanted to make her happy." She sighed. "It wasn't the wrong thing to do, exactly. It's just--it wasn't the right thing to do, either."
"I know. I know." And groaning, I buried my face in my hands. "It's all such a mess. What the hell am I going to do?"
"You have to tell her the truth. And she'll just have to learn to accept that Daniel is no longer part of your life. Her life."
"Huh." I shook my head miserably. "How? When?"
"Today. When we go to visit her after lunch."
"I can't!" I let my hands fall away and gazed at her in disbelief. "They said she'd need to rest--that she'd need to take it easy this afternoon, remember?"
"Oh." Her face fell. "Of course, she's having that angina-gram thingy this morning. I forgot."
"Angiogram," I corrected. "Your brain really is pickled."
"Shut up," she muttered with a smile, looking faintly embarrassed. "Okay, so maybe not today. Tomorrow then."
"But she's supposed to be coming home tomorrow."
Sarah shot me a knowing look. "You think that if you tell her, she's going to have another heart attack."
I bit my lip. "Well, she could, couldn't she?"
"Becky--" She released a heavy sigh. "Yes, she might have another heart attack one day--who knows? But you heard the doctor. He said that all things considered, there are a lot of things in her favour. She's never smoked--" Sarah held up her hand to tick off the items on her fingers "--she's never drunk much alcohol, she's not overweight." She paused, her expression softening again. "Honey, we can't spend the rest of our lives--her life--not talking about things that might upset her."
I stared down at the scar on my forearm, at the small tufts of thread emerging from either side at regular intervals, the long, reddened line extending from the back of my wrist almost to my elbow where it veered abruptly to the right.
"Shouldn't you have had those taken out by now?"
Thrown by the change in subject, I jerked my head back up. "What?"
"The stitches." Sarah leaned forward again, lifting my hand for a better look.
"Er--" I hadn't given it a thought. "He said--I mean--they said--" Damn it--there'd been no need to correct myself "--they ought to stay in seven to ten days." I frowned, trying to work out how long it had been. "What day is it today?"
"Monday. And you said my brain's pickled," Sarah replied with a smirk, still examining my arm. "It's healing really well, isn't it? I s'pose you'll always be able to see the scar though." She grinned. "P'raps you could make it into a tattoo. Have you noticed it looks like a great big capital L?"
Oh, I'd noticed...
"I'll make an appointment with the practice nurse tomorrow," I murmured, pulling my hand from my sister's grasp. "It's been ten days but I wouldn't have thought a couple of extra days would make much difference--"
"For heaven's sake..." Grimacing, Sarah slid her hand down the side of the chair, producing a cordless phone with a flourish. "Ring up and make the appointment now. The number for the surgery is on button three."
"Stop putting things off, honey. Call the surgery now and I'll help you tell Mum about you and Daniel tomorrow."
I took the phone then hesitated, my finger hovering over the button. "I don't know. Maybe we should wait. Maybe we shouldn't tell her just yet."
"What?" Sarah shot me an incredulous look. "I can't believe I'm hearing this."
Neither could I. I found myself swapping the handset from palm to palm. "But we used to be good together--"
"Becky!" This time she sounded more like my big sister of old, using much the same tone she'd used on finding out I'd borrowed her clothes when we were teenagers. "He cheated on you--"
"The week before your wedding."
"So how can you forget that he did that? If it was me, I don't think I could. How are you ever going to trust him again?"
"No, wait," she interrupted, holding up her hand. "You think you'll be able to carry on as normal, as though nothing ever happened? You really think you'll be able to forgive him? Becky--listen to me--he slept with someone else!"
She gave an exasperated sigh. "Then I don't understand why you're even giving this a second thought. How on earth can you--?"
"Because he wasn't the only one, okay?" I wailed as a wave of guilt--the same wave that had never completely ebbed away--rose full force within me. "He wasn't the only one!"
Shocked to find I'd finally uttered those taunting words aloud, the words that had repeated themselves over and over in my head for more than a week now, I stared at her helplessly. "I said," I began, feeling rather as though I was trapped in a nightmare, my voice not sounding at all like my own, "he wasn't the only one."
She stared back, her eyes widening as my words took effect. "You mean--?"
I nodded miserably. "I slept with someone else too."
I watched her mouth opening and closing, could almost see the cogs whirring around in her mind as she processed what I'd said, as she struggled to find the right words to frame her next inevitable question.
But before she could go any further, the phone in my hand began to chirrup loudly. Startled, I thrust it towards Sarah, letting go of it like a hot potato the moment our fingers made contact. "You answer that. I'll go and make some more tea," I said, leaping out of my chair despite the fact that the last cup I'd made her remained untouched upon the coffee table. And without waiting to find out who was calling I raced to the sanctuary of the kitchen.
"Oh God," I moaned, leaning down to press my forehead against the cool granite countertop. "You've really gone and done it this time..."
The memories of Luke had proved impossible to shake but then he'd made love to me so thoroughly, so comprehensively, I doubted I'd ever forget. But neither could I shake my feelings of self-reproach. While I'd been in the throes of passion, my mother had been in the throes of death. While I'd been in ecstasy, she'd been in agony.
Because of me. Because I'd called off my wedding. Because Daniel had been unfaithful. Yet less than a week later, I'd spent the night with Luke. Didn't that mean I'd been unfaithful too? Didn't that make me a hypocrite? I couldn't decide, couldn't rationalise any more, the constant analysis of my actions keeping me awake night after night until I thought I'd go crazy from sleep deprivation. I needed to tell someone...
To my surprise, when I straightened up I found Sarah behind me. She was panting slightly, clinging to the doorframe as though afraid she'd fall over without the support, her face ashen.
"Oh my God," I exclaimed, my gaze dropping automatically to her rounded belly. "What's wrong? Are you having contractions--is the baby coming?"
"No," she managed with a shake of her head, still panting slightly. "It's not me."
"That was the hospital. It's Mum."
"Complications?" Sarah echoed heatedly. "What do you mean, complications?"
The doctor looked rather flustered. "Shall we sit down?" she said, casting a wary glance at my sister's swollen belly before waving her hand towards the chairs lining the far wall of the room.
Graham had raced home from work to ferry us to the hospital but on arriving at the medical ward where Mum had been staying we discovered no one was quite sure what was going on. There'd been a nerve-wracking hour or so during which one of the nurses had paged doctors and made various phone calls but had only been able to determine that my mother was in theatre undergoing emergency surgery. Eventually, we'd been told to make our way upstairs to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and that we should wait for further updates in the relatives' lounge. Dr Martinez had arrived shortly afterwards.
"It's actually quite rare for problems to arise during an angiogram," she explained, looking a lot more at ease now we were seated. "But as with any procedure there are risks which Mrs Ashmore--your mother--would've been told about before agreeing to give her consent."
Sarah and I exchanged glances. If Mum had been told there were risks, she'd certainly kept quiet about them. But then she'd made light of all the tests she'd undertaken.
"Generally speaking though," Dr Martinez continued, "the benefit of having the procedure done far outweighs the risks. If the angiogram shows that there is narrowing of the coronary arteries, we can often carry out what we call angioplasty during the same procedure. That might involve inflating a small balloon in the artery or placing a small tube called a stent in the artery to widen it. It means we can avoid surgery wherever possible."
"So what went wrong?" Graham asked, looping an arm around his wife's shoulders.
"I was told that the technician found significant narrowing and was attempting to place a stent. Unfortunately there was some damage to the artery and your mother had to be taken to theatre for emergency coronary artery bypass surgery."
There was a pause while she waited for us to digest this information. I looked up at the doctor, afraid to ask the question I most wanted to ask, but knowing one of us had to do it. "Is she going to make it?"
As I'd expected, Dr Martinez took care to keep her expression neutral. "I'm sure the team in theatre will be doing all they can to take the very best care of your mother. But I can tell you that bypass operations are usually very successful."
I nodded. "How long will it take?"
"That rather depends on what the surgeon decides is necessary. It maybe that just one bypass graft is needed, on the other hand, four might be needed. So at least three hours, possibly up to six or more."
"Right," I murmured.
"Obviously, you're welcome to stay here and wait, as they'll bring her up to intensive care afterwards--although--" Dr Martinez directed another rather unsubtle glance towards Sarah "--you could go home and we'll give you a call just as soon as she's out of theatre--"
"No," Sarah interrupted. "We'll stay."
"Okay." The doctor rose to her feet. "Well, the moment there's any news, I'll come and let you know, of course. But in the meantime..."
She left the sentence hanging and I knew she was looking for permission to leave. "Yes, thank you," I said quickly. "Thanks for taking the time to speak to us." And after nodding briefly, the doctor made good her escape.
"I need to go for a walk," Sarah said unexpectedly, shattering the silence that had fallen over the room. "I can't just sit here right now."
Graham stood up and extended his arm to help her up. "Come on then. We'll go down to the canteen and get--"
"No. I just need some fresh air, that's all." She hesitated. "Would you mind if I took Becky with me?"
He looked surprised but shook his head. "Of course not," he said, helping her to her feet. "Take your phone and then I can call you if anything happens."
I found myself having to run along the corridor to catch up with her, my sister moving surprisingly fast for a woman who was almost at full term. When I reached her side she slapped the phone into my hand. "Call Daniel again. If he cares as much as he says he does, he should be here."
"But you're not supposed to use a mobile in a hospital--" I began.
"Just do it. That line about the signals interfering with electronic equipment has to be a load of crap. The doctors here use them all the time."
I obeyed meekly, knowing better than to argue with Sarah in this mood. "He's still not answering. It's gone to voicemail again." I ended the call, not bothering to leave a message--I'd already left three and sent several texts. "I'm going to have to go out and get myself a new phone. I can't keep using yours all the--"
"You slept with someone else?"
"What?" I stared at her as she stopped abruptly, turning around to face me. "Sarah!" She really wanted me to tell her about that now?
She shrugged. "You heard the doctor. We're going to be waiting around for hours, Daniel's not here. And God knows, I need something different to think about--"
"So do I!" I burst out. "But I can't think about anything else, okay? I can't sleep, I can't eat--"
She frowned. "You're not talking about Mum anymore, are you?"
"For fuck's sake..." As I slumped against the wall, burying my face in my hands, I could feel her gazing at me. She was probably trying to decide whether she needed to have me committed, I decided. And I wouldn't blame her. It certainly felt as though I was losing my mind.
"You should've told me before." Though the words were full of reproach, her tone was gentle now.
"Yeah, well." I gave a helpless shrug. "I figured there was enough going on already without me making things even more complicated."