Authors: Marta Perry
“Libby. I didn’t expect to see you this early.” His gaze sharpened on her face, drawn and exhausted-looking. “You look beat,” he said abruptly. “Didn’t you get any rest?”
She shook her head, the blond ponytail and red ski jacket making her look about fifteen if you didn’t look at the lines of tension and pain around her eyes.
“I stayed at the hospital until morning. It seemed to comfort Esther’s mother to have me there, and I was able to run interference with the medical people.”
He nodded, knowing the truth of that. As far as Rebecca Zook was concerned, Libby was like another daughter. Their relationship had deep roots, and even though Libby lived far away, it was still solid. “Is there any change?”
He gestured to his visitor’s chair. Libby sat down but perched on the edge of the seat, as if she’d fly off again any minute.
“No change as far as we could tell.” Her voice thickened on the words. “The doctor on duty seemed to be surprised that she had survived the night.”
He tried to think of something comforting to say and couldn’t. “I’m sorry.”
Libby’s dark blue eyes looked even darker with emotion. “She did get through the night, so I’m taking that as a good sign. Maybe when I get there—”
“You ought to be home, getting some sleep.” His voice was gruff as he tried to conceal an uprush of concern.
“You sound like my mother.” There was a snap in her voice.
He tried to smile, wanting to ease the tension between them. “Speaking of your mother, I’m surprised Geneva let you go.”
“She knows I’m only doing what she would do in this situation.” She glanced down, seeming to focus on her hands, clutching together in her lap. “She’ll be at the hospital herself later—you can count on that.”
His heart twisted. “I wanted to talk to you, but it can wait, if you need to get back.”
“Talk about what?” She focused on his face, her gaze so intent it was like being touched.
“Those letters you received from Esther.” He frowned. “I don’t suppose you brought them?”
“I’m sorry. I forgot you wanted to see them. I can drop them off later, but I’ve already told you what they said.” Her chin lifted. “Are you actually taking me seriously now?”
I always take you seriously, Libby
“I’m not convinced the letters had anything to do with her accident, but I’m not dismissing the idea.” He frowned, glancing toward the map again. “Nobody seems to know what Esther was doing on that road last night. Or if they do, they’re not telling me.”
She considered that, following his gaze to the map. Then she rose, coming around the desk to stand next to him, staring at it.
“Esther was where? About here?” She put her finger on the narrow line that represented the road, her sleeve brushing his.
There wasn’t enough air in the office. It was always small, but now the walls closed in around him. No, around
“A little farther along.” His touched the map, unable to avoid touching her hand, as well. “You see the problem. The Zook farm is clear up here, and the school is in the opposite direction. I don’t see any reason at all that she’d be on Dahl Road. It’s not on the way to any of the places she might normally go.”
Libby studied the map and then traced her finger along the road to where it intersected with the main road, three miles from Springville. Her breath caught in a strangled gasp.
“Esther knew I was at the reception. She was coming to see me. If I had gotten to her sooner, this never would have happened.”
“You don’t know that.” He made his voice deliberately flat, trying to dampen her emotion. “And even if she was heading for Springville, it doesn’t explain anything. Where was she coming from? She wouldn’t be on Dahl Road if she were driving from home to Springville.”
“N-no, I guess not.” She looked up at him. “But it doesn’t change the fact that I should have come home sooner.”
She was so close. Too close. He couldn’t help but remember what had happened the last time he’d made the mistake of getting this near her.
He took a step back, bumping into the desk, his foot entangling with the wheels of his chair. Like a stupid adolescent, tripping in the presence of the girl he was crazy about.
“It doesn’t do Esther or her family any good to have you feeling sorry for yourself,” he said, purposely cool.
Her face flamed with anger, as he’d known it would. “I’m not feeling sorry for myself. And I see you haven’t learned any tact,” she snapped.
“I’m a cop, not a diplomat.” He moved away from her, around the desk. “My job is to find out who smashed into Esther’s buggy and left her lying there on the road.”
Maybe it was the effect of his words or maybe it was her natural courage, but Libby straightened, her chin lifting.
“I’ll let you get on with that, then. If you need me, I’ll be at the hospital.” She walked quickly to the door, and then turned. “And while you’re investigating, you might see if you can find my camera. I must have left it in your car last night.”
Before he could respond she was gone, the door not quite slamming behind her.
He’d wanted to snap her out of thinking she was responsible for Esther’s injury. Looked like he’d succeeded, but at the cost of making her mad at him.
Still, that might be better for both of them.
* * *
LIBBY’S HEART TWISTED when she approached the door of Esther’s room, an unreasoning panic welling up. If something had happened…
That was stupid. If anything had changed, she’d have heard. Still, her hand was cold as she pushed the door open.
Esther lay as she had the night before, her face nearly as white as the sheets except for the spreading bruises. Motionless, silent. The only sound in the room came from the machines, throbbing and pumping.
Esther’s mother, sitting on the edge of a vinyl chair, was touching her daughter’s hand. Another Amish woman sat next to Rebecca, her black dress and apron an echo of Rebecca’s.
Rebecca looked up as the door swung shut, and her face creased in a welcoming smile that wiped away a little of the stress and pain. “Ach, Libby. I knew you would be back soon, for sure.”
Libby crossed to her and bent to press her cheek against Rebecca’s.
“How is she?”
Rebecca took her hand. “No change. That’s what the nurse said, ja, Anna?” She glanced at the woman next to her.
The name triggered Libby’s memory. Anna King, Esther’s Aunt Anna. A former teacher herself, she had encouraged Esther to teach.
“Ja, that’s right.” Anna managed a smile, even though it was strained. “Libby, it is gut you are here. You have always been one of the family. Komm, sit here.” She rose, motioning to her chair.
“I won’t take your seat—”
But Anna shoved her gently to the seat. “You will keep Rebecca and Esther company, and I will go for some coffee. The walk will do me gut.”
Libby let herself be persuaded. Alone with her, maybe Rebecca might talk a little more freely. Surely she knew something about what had worried Esther in recent weeks.
“This is gut,” Rebecca said. Clasping Libby’s hand, she placed it over Esther’s. “Maybe she will know that it is you, ain’t so?”
She nodded. Esther’s hand was slack under hers, limp and almost lifeless.
When they were children, they’d run everywhere holding hands. Laughing. After all these years, they were still so close. Each time she came home, she and Esther picked up again exactly where they’d left off, as if they hadn’t been apart.
“She will open her eyes and look at us,” Rebecca said. “Maybe not today, but soon.”
Did Rebecca realize how serious Esther’s condition was? Probably. She was a realist who took things as they came, like most Amish.
“Has the doctor been in again since I left?”
Rebecca shook her head. “But the nurse is very kind.”
“That’s fine.” But she couldn’t help wanting to hear an analysis from the doctor. “Before I forget, my mother said to tell you she’ll be here a bit later today.”
Rebecca’s eyes filled with tears. “Geneva is a gut friend. Everyone has been ser kind, offering rides, saying they’ll watch the kinder so Mary Ann can be here, bringing food.”
“Everyone loves Esther. And you. They want to help.”
Rebecca nodded. She looked at her daughter, and her lips pressed together.
Libby knew what she was thinking. She was wondering if Esther would ever know how much people cared about her.
She clasped Rebecca’s hand. “She’ll get well. She will.” Was she assuring Rebecca or herself?
“It will be as God wills,” Rebecca said softly. “But it can’t be wrong to hope God wills her to stay with us awhile longer, ain’t so?”
The door swung open. The doctor who entered was the same one who’d stopped by earlier—not the surgeon, the one who’d shown his surprise that Esther was still alive. Dr. C. Bardo, according to his name badge.
Libby found herself stiffening. If he didn’t manage to be a bit more tactful this time…
“Well, let’s see how we’re doing.” He consulted the chart, checked the machines, looking everywhere, it seemed, but at the patient. Rebecca followed his every movement, her gaze painful in its intensity.
He made a notation on the chart and then turned as if to leave.
Libby stood. “How is Esther doing, Dr. Bardo?”
Her crisp voice halted him. He looked from her to Rebecca, as if measuring what to say to them. Or maybe how much they could handle.
“The patient is fairly stable at the moment.” He frowned, seeming to search for the right words. “Does she…” He nodded toward Rebecca. “Does she understand what I’m saying?”
Libby took a strong hold on her temper. “Of course Mrs. Zook understands. Please tell us how her daughter is.”
“Sorry.” He had the grace to look embarrassed. “I wasn’t sure. The injuries are serious. Very serious. Frankly, we weren’t sure the patient would survive the night.”
“Esther,” she said clearly. “Her name is Esther.”
“Yes, right.” He spoke quickly. “Head injuries are tricky things. I’m sure her…Esther’s…surgeon will stop by later today, and he’ll be able to explain it more thoroughly. Simply put, we’re doing everything we can. She’s in a medically induced coma to give her brain time to heal. Beyond that—well, no one can say how much she might recover.”
“I see. Thank you for telling us.” Should she have pressed him? But Rebecca wanted the truth.
“I wish we had better news for you.” He was already halfway out the door. This time, Libby let him go.
She sank down in the chair next to Rebecca. “Doctors don’t know everything,” she said. “And he certainly doesn’t know what a strong person Esther is.”
“Ja, that is true.” Rebecca looked at her daughter, love in her eyes. “Denke, Libby. For making him tell us. It is better to know what they are thinking. And you are right. Esther is a strong person, and she is in God’s hands.”
Strong. Even motionless, unconscious, with tubes running into her, there was strength in the very bone structure of Esther’s face. Esther was a person who would do what she thought was right, no matter the consequences. Was that what had landed her here?
“Rebecca, you know that Esther wrote to me, didn’t you?”
“Ja, for sure. Every week. Sometimes she would read me parts of your letters, too.” Rebecca smiled gently. “She loved hearing from you.”
Libby’s throat tightened. “I felt the same. She’d tell me all the little things of her days…funny things the children said, what canning you were doing. It made me feel connected.”
“Reminded you of home, is all,” Rebecca said. “She wished you would komm back to stay.”
She nodded. That wasn’t a safe subject. She’d never told anyone, even Esther, about Adam’s connection to why she stayed away, but she’d had a feeling Esther guessed even the things she didn’t say.