Maybe she’d change her career, practice a different kind of law. Or maybe she’d start a business, sort of an informational clearinghouse for people with brain tumors; maybe she could find a disillusioned doctor to partner with her. Or maybe a charitable company, one that helped finance the best of care in the worst of times. The world seemed wide-open to her now, full of new possibilities.
It took her less than a half an hour to walk home. She was just about to cross the street when she saw him, standing outside the front door of her building.
When he saw her, Joe pulled away from the wall he’d been leaning against and crossed the street. “Gina told me where you lived.”
“Stu told you about the MRI?”
“I spent the last hour with him. It looks good for Claire.”
He moved toward her. “I’m tired of not caring, Meg,” he said softly. “And I’m tired of pretending I died when Diana did.”
She looked up at him. They were close now, close enough so that he could kiss her if he chose. “What chance do we have, a couple like us?”
“We have a chance. It’s all any of us gets.”
“We could get hurt.”
“We’ve survived it before.” He touched her face tenderly; it made her want to cry. No man had ever been so gentle with her. “And maybe we could fall in love.”
She gazed up into his eyes and saw a hope for the future. More than that, even. She saw a little of the love he was talking about and, for the first time, she believed in it. If Claire could get well, anything was possible. She put her arms around him and pressed onto her toes. Just before she kissed him she dared to whisper, “Maybe we already have.”
One Year Later
THE NOISE WAS DEAFENING—THE FAIRGROUNDS WERE jammed with people; kids screaming from the carnival rides, parents yelling after them, carnies barking out enticements to play the games, the musical cadence of the calliope.
Alison was up ahead, dragging Joe from ride to ride. Meghann and Claire walked along behind, talking softly, carrying the collection of cheesy stuffed animals and cheap glass trinkets that Joe had won. Claire’s limp was the only physical reminder of her ordeal, and it was getting less pronounced each day. Her hair had grown out; it was curlier and blonder than before.
“It’s time,” Claire said, signaling to Joe. The four of them fell in line together, walking past the refreshment stand and turning left toward the fairgrounds’ bleachers.
“There’s a crowd already,” Claire said. She sounded nervous.
“Of course there is,” Meghann said.
“Hurry, Mommy, hurry!” Alison was bouncing up and down. At the special side door, Claire showed her backstage pass. They made their way through the staging area, past the musicians and singers who were warming up.
Bobby saw them coming and waved. Alison ran for him. He scooped her into his arms and twirled her around. “My daddy’s gonna sing tonight,” she said loud enough for everyone to hear.
“I sure am.” Bobby looped an arm around Claire and pulled her in for a kiss. “Wish me luck.”
“You don’t need it.”
They talked to him for a few more minutes, then left him to get ready.
They climbed the bleachers and found their seats in the fourth row. Meghann helped Claire sit down; her sister was still unsteady sometimes.
“Kent Ames called last week,” Claire said. “Mama ripped him a new one for canceling Bobby’s contract.”
“She’s been cussing him out for months.”
“I know. Last week she told him she’d gotten Bobby an audition at Mercury Records. Kent Ames threw a fit. It seems he wants to give Bobby another chance, after all. Said he hopes Bobby’s priorities are straight this time.” Claire smiled.
A man took the stage and announced, “Bob-by Jack Austin!”
The crowd applauded politely.
Alison jumped up and down, screaming, “Yay, Daddy!”
Bobby leaped up onstage with his guitar. He scanned the audience, found Claire, and blew her a kiss. “This song is for my wife, who taught me about love and courage. I love you, baby.” He strummed the guitar and started to sing. His clear, beautiful voice wrapped around the music and mesmerized the crowd. He sang about finding the woman of his dreams and falling in love with her, about standing by her side in dark times. In the final stanza, his voice fell to a throaty whisper; the crowd leaned forward to hear the words.
When I saw you stumble
over rocks along the way
I learned the truth of real love
and the gift of one more day.
The applause this time was explosive. Half the women in the audience were weeping.
Meghann put an arm around her sister. “I told you he’d make a great husband. I liked that guy from the first moment I saw him.”
Claire laughed. “Yeah, right. And what about you and Joe? You guys are practically living together. It looks to me like maybe there’s a prenuptial agreement in your future.”
Meghann looked at Joe, who was on his feet, clapping. Alison was in his arms. Since he’d started practicing medicine again, he said anything was possible. They’d taught each other to believe in love again. “A prenup? Me? No way. We were thinking about a small wedding. Outside—”
“Where it rains? Where bugs breed? That outside?”
“Maybe with hamburgers and hot dogs and—”
“Gina’s potato salad.”
They both said it at the same time and laughed.
“Yeah,” Meghann said, leaning against her sister. “That kind of wedding.”