Gwenn heard a voice pushing through the fog the next morning. Chelsea. Her eyes flew open and she sat straight up on the hospital bed. In an instant, her feet hit the floor and she stood beside the bed where her child lay, all puffy and bruised.
"I'm here, Chels. How do you feel, baby?" Gwenn placed a gentle hand on Chelsea's forehead. Her blonde hair framed her face in a tangled mass on the pillow.
"Sore all over. My leg's killing me. I'm so sorry, Mom," Chelsea whimpered.
"Shh, baby. You're going to be okay. We'll talk about it all when you're feeling up to it. Just rest now. I'll go talk to a nurse about getting you something for the pain. I'll be right back," Gwenn promised and kissed Chelsea's forehead. Chelsea nodded at her mother as the tears leaked from the corners of her tired eyes. A nurse came in a short while later with a dose of pain medication.
For the next hour, Gwenn sat with Chelsea, watching her sleep.After speaking with the doctor and feeling satisfied that Chelsea was resting comfortably, Gwenn drove home to freshen up and unpack. She made the twenty minute drive from Little Rock to Winnfield with the windows down and the radio turned up, hoping the wind and music would revive her. As she drove over the I-430 bridge, she looked out at the Arkansas river and thought about Wes, who was probably out on his deck, painting, and enjoying the view of the beach. At that moment, she would have much preferred sitting out there as well, enjoying the sea air and watching him paint.
Chelsea's dog, Fred, a rescued mutt of two years old, greeted Gwenn at the door when she arrived home. A glance around the house told her that nothing had changed in her absence. The same clutter and laundry awaited her today as it had a few days earlier. She took a look at the mail, then retreated to her bedroom to unpack. Spots tagged along behind her.
Gwenn had just stepped out of the shower and wrapped up in a towel when she heard her cell phone ring. Wes' name appeared on the screen. She thought about letting it go to voicemail, but decided the distraction might be good for her.
"Hey, Wes, how are you?"
"I'm good. How's Chelsea?"
"She's hanging in there. I spoke with the doctor this morning and he thinks the leg should be able to heal without surgery, at least for now. So that's good news, at least."
"Yes, it is. And how about you? Did you get any sleep last night?"
Gwenn was touched by the concern in his voice. Still wearing a yellow bath towel, she sat on the edge of her bed. "I did. I just came home to shower and get a few things done before I go back to the hospital."
"Good. Did Bryan give you a hard time?"
"Well, of course he was a jerk when I saw him briefly last night. He could have been on something, for all I know. He didn't say much, but Chelsea apologized to me this morning. I told her we could talk about what happened when she's more up to it."
"That's probably a wise decision."
"So, what are your plans for the day?"
"Actually, I think I'm going to get my paints out and set up a fresh canvas on the deck. It's a gorgeous day for it."
"I’m so happy to hear that, Wes. Good for you. Sounds like great therapy."
"I think so, too." He paused. "Well, I'll let you get back to it. I know you have your hands full. Keep me posted and take care of yourself, okay?"
"I will. I may be calling you to vent after I get my hands on Bryan."
"I look forward to it. Talk to you soon."
Gwenn sat there for a moment, and thought about Wes and Pam's relationship. Even though their marriage had deteriorated, a committed friendship remained between them. Pam had genuinely wanted Wes to stay with her for support throughout her illness. She knew early on that her cancer was terminal and she opted to spend her days fighting and living with Wes by her side. Despite the fact that Wes had fallen out of love with Pam long ago, he didn't hesitate for a second to stay by her side when she needed him the most. What's more, he didn't harbor a drop of resentment toward Pam. Gwenn found that to be both noble and remarkable.
Looking back at her marriage to Bryan, Gwenn could not remember a time when she trusted him enough to lean on him during a time of crisis, or even wanted to, for that matter. He never wanted to grow up, even when they learned of Gwenn's pregnancy with Scott. Bryan's priorities revolved more around his social life than the lives of his wife and child. Gwenn had hoped fatherhood would curb Bryan's bachelor lifestyle. Instead, he seemed to resent the responsibilities associated with raising a family. He battled depression, refused to seek professional help, and chose to self-medicate with alcohol. His dependency on booze ultimately cost him Gwenn and the kids.
Still tired from the night before, Gwenn pulled on a pair of well-worn jeans and one of her favorite t-shirts. With damp hair and bare feet, she headed for her tiny home office. Gwenn had a few real estate deals pending. Before she flew to Galveston, she left her files in the capable hands of Shay, a coworker and good friend. Gwenn turned on her computer and dialed Shay's cell phone.
"Hey, girl! How's the beach?"
"Actually, I'm calling from home. Chelsea's been in an accident and she's in the hospital." Gwenn tried to keep from crying at the sound of her friend's voice.
"What? Is she going to be okay? Tell me what happened."
Over the next few minutes, Gwenn brought Shay up to speed on her trip and the situation with Chelsea. She felt a bit lighter just from talking to her friend.
"I hate to hear that about Chelsea. Who was driving the car that hit them? Do you know?"
"I have no idea. I still haven't gotten all the details yet. That's just one of the questions I have. I'll be going back to see Chelsea soon, so maybe she'll feel up to talking then. I thought I'd check with you on my pendings first. Anything going on that I should know about?"
"The Pearsons' title search got held up. Other than that, you have several messages at the office from you know who. I tried to help him, but he insisted on dealing with you." Gwenn had been working with a businessman who was interested in commercial buildings. Joseph Valentino’s pushy nature and demanding attitude made him hard to work with, and Gwenn was having a hard time pleasing him.
“Okay, I’ll handle him. Sorry he gave you grief. Thanks for your help. I don’t know what I’d do without you, Shay.”
“Anytime, Gwenn. Let me know if there’s anything else I can help with. Tell Chelsea I said to get better soon.”
“I will. Thanks, again.” Gwenn opened her client contact file on the computer, and pulled up Joe Valentino’s information. She looked through the missed calls on her cell and saw that a few had been from him. For some reason he was after one particular piece of property, but the owner showed no interest in selling it. Not wanting Shay to have to field anymore messages, Gwenn decided to make a quick call to Valentino before going back to the hospital. The call went to voicemail. She counted her blessings, left a brief message for him to call her back at his convenience, and got ready to go see Chelsea.
Bryan was nowhere in sight when Gwenn arrived at the hospital. In a way, his absence relieved her, but she still hurt for Chelsea. The kid deserved a father who stayed sober long enough to visit her in the hospital. Besides, Gwenn still had a few questions for him. For the moment, Chelsea’s health remained the most important issue, and Gwenn reminded herself of that as she passed the nurses' station.Chelsea was awake and eating chocolate pudding. She smiled meekly at her mother when Gwenn entered her room.
“Hey. How are you feeling, honey?”
“Like crap. The nurse said I should be able to go home after they put a cast on my leg.”
“Really? Well, good. I know the cast is inconvenient, but you should be happy you don’t need surgery.”
“Oh, I am. Believe me.” Chelsea scraped the last of the pudding out of the container with a plastic spoon.
"So, do you want to tell me what happened, Chels? I need to know. Your dad hasn't said too much." Gwenn dragged a chair close to the bed and sat down. She hoped Chelsea would open up if she didn't feel threatened. Kevin had been a sore subject between them for the last couple of months, and Gwenn was going to try her best to avoid an argument.
"We were hanging out at Kevin's house and he wanted to get something to eat. So we took the bike. I didn’t see the car coming. It's like it was just there, all of the sudden. Kevin tried to turn, but he didn't have time. After that, I only remember being here."
"How is Kevin, by the way?" Gwenn forced herself to sound like she gave a crap about the kid who almost got her daughter killed.
"He broke his arm. He's home."
"What about the driver of the car? Do you know anything?"
"No. They didn't even stop to see if we were okay. Kevin had to call 9-1-1."
Gwenn was shocked. "What? They didn't stop? I don't believe it. Were either of you able to give the police a description of the car, at least? What about witnesses?"
"It was late at night, Mom. No one was really out. It happened out of town on the old highway near the elementary school. All we could tell was that it was a dark colored sports car. That's pretty much it. It's not like we had time to get a license plate number, or anything."
"I understand that, Chelsea. The most important thing is that you're both okay, aside from a couple of broken bones, scrapes, and bruises. Now, I'd like to know why you were at Kevin's house, after you've been told not to go over there. And what did you tell your father?"
"I don't think he really cared. He was halfway through a bottle of bourbon. I don't know why we stayed with him, anyway. Scotty and I would have been fine by ourselves."
"We already discussed this. You're fifteen and Scott's seventeen. Too much can happen. I know your dad's not your favorite person, but he was the best I could do on short notice."
"Speaking of your father, has he called you or been by here today?"
"He called. He said he's coming by later."
"Good." Gwenn went to the cafeteria for a snack and a breather. She was deciding between a tuna sandwich or a ham sandwich when her cell phone rang and Joe Valentino's number flashed on the screen.