Which hospital would the child be at? He chose the nearest one, which also happened to be the largest in the region. He parked in the garage and navigated a bewildering maze of hallways before he finally came to an information desk with a volunteer.
“I’m looking for a patient. A child. Last name Frazier. Mom’s first name is Cassidy.”
“Are you related to the family?” the gray-haired woman asked.
“The child’s deceased father worked for me. I’m trying to find Mrs. Frazier to make a condolence call.”
The woman hesitated for a moment, eyeing his uniform and major’s oak leaves, then said under her breath, “I’m not supposed to release that information, but if you went up to Intensive Care Unit #2, you might find who you’re looking for.Goodness knows,” she added in a rush, “Cassidy could use a friendly face right about now.” She indicated the corridor behind her. . “ICU’s on the fifth floor. Elevators are to your left about a hundred feel down that hall.”
“Thanks.” Intensive Care, huh? That didn’t sound good.
Cassidy Frazier slumped on a high stool next to her son’s bed. He looked so small and fragile. At least he was resting quietly. His breathing was closer to normal now that they had him on oxygen full time. Normally they would have to sedate a five-year old boy on respiratory support to keep him still, but Cody was so weak it wasn’t necessary. Eight months they’d been waiting for a new heart for him. She didn’t know how much longer her baby could hang on. Frankly, she was nearing the end of her rope, too.
She bent down and rested her forehead on the bed rail beside Cody’s frail little hand. A hand that should be throwing baseballs and picking up toads and finger painting. But instead, it lay there on top of the white sheet, limp and lifeless.
A silent sob shook her slender frame. She couldn’t lose him. He was the last piece of Jimmy that she had. She’d promised her husband when he’d left to go overseas that she’d take care of Cody for him. But she’d never dreamed it would mean enduring this unending nightmare of false hope and heartbreak, months on end in and out of the hospital…now mostly in.
She couldn’t do it anymore. She couldn’t hold her life together. Couldn’t find the energy to scrape together any more money to pay for experimental treatments not covered by Jimmy’s military health insurance. Couldn’t paste one more smile over her tears for Cody’s sake.
This was it. She’d reached the end of the road.
Please, Jimmy. Come back to me. Take this nightmare away and make everything okay again. I just want things to go back to the way they were.
The sobs became too much to hold back. She slapped a hand over her mouth and raced out into the hall so she wouldn’t disturb Cody. She sagged against the wall outside his room and finally gave vent to the grief, fear, and loneliness that were always there, threatening to crash over her like a massive wave.
The agony in her chest was too much to bear and she slid down to the floor, curled in on herself, and cried her heart out. The hell of it was she didn’t feel one bit better afterward. And now her nose was runny and her eyes red. She’d been lying to Cody about having allergies for months to cover up the aftermath of her tears.
As her sobs wound down, the elevator at the end of the curving hall dinged and she started. Visiting hours were almost over and the hospital staff used another elevator most of the time.
She glimpsed a man, blurred by her tears, stepping out of the elevator. He was dressed in speckled gray. Beige suede combat boots. A soldier. Tall and strong like Jimmy. Dark-haired like him. Same confident stride. Surely not…they’d been certain he died, even though his body hadn’t been recovered…
Her heart took a mighty leap in her chest. Jimmy had come back to her! Her prayer had been answered—but then the insanity of that idea slammed into her so hard it nearly finished her off.
She scrubbed at her eyes, dashing away tears to see more clearly. As he drew closer, she saw the differences between this man and Jimmy. This man was a half-dozen years older. A few inches taller. Leaner than Jimmy, who’d always carried a little baby fat around his middle. This man’s eyes were light and piercing, where Jimmy’s had been dark and soft and warm. And—oh, dear—he wore officer’s insignia on his collar instead of Jimmy’s enlisted stripes.
She scrambled to her feet as he approached her and asked tentatively, “Mrs. Frazier?”
She blinked up at him, feeling like an owl. “Who are you?” she finally managed to mumble.
“I’m Mitch McConnell. Are you Cassidy Frazier?”
She nodded, puzzled by this man’s presence here and now.
He let out a relieved breath. “Good. I’ve been looking for you.”