After Peter was led away, Andrew sank wearily back into the uncomfortable chair. The previous eight hours had taken their toll on him, but he knew that the night wasn’t over yet. He couldn’t help but think bitterly of the unfairness of it all. It had only been less than three months since Peter had come to him for advice on reconciling with Trixie. He knew his older brother hadn’t felt right about keeping it from his wife, but had assumed that he had her best interests at heart.
He remembered how happy Trixie had been, how she had loved seeing her father play with his grandchildren. He thought of the necklace Peter had given her for a birthday present, knowing it was locked in the hospital safe along with her engagement and wedding rings. He was suddenly thankful that Regan was with the Wheelers in the room where Trixie and Honey were being kept for observation. The relationship between the young man and his father-in-law was now warm, but was still new enough to be fragile. He didn’t know how he would have taken Peter’s startling confession.
He sighed, suddenly wishing that he was back in Missouri, spending a peaceful night by the fire in his hunting lodge. He then upbraided himself, knowing he had returned to Sleepyside because he thought he was needed. Sometimes he wondered how much he could take, though. First, Peter and Helen had disowned Trixie, which was what had caused him to move in the first place. He remembered feeling as if years had been taken from his expected life span when he had returned home the morning after the worst blizzard in local history to discover that Trixie had given birth during the night.
Then, a few months later, his other niece, Hallie, had appeared. She had refused to stay with Peter and Helen. Instead, she had asked if she could stay with him for the two weeks until her dorm opened. He supposed he couldn’t really blame her for not wanting to stay at Crabapple Farm, but she had left him to explain to his brother just why she didn’t feel welcome at the farm. Even though she was now living on campus in the city, or had been until she had gone home to Idaho for a few weeks, Andrew still felt responsible for her.
In a way, he worried about Hallie more than he did about Trixie. Knowing that Trixie had Regan to watch over her allowed Andrew to be there for her as a more of a supportive friend than a parental figure. He almost smiled, recalling Eleanor’s initial reaction when Hallie had started dating Dan Mangan. He was thankful that he had succeeded in convincing Harold and Eleanor that Dan wasn’t evil incarnate simply because he was Bill Regan’s nephew. He remembered their visit last Christmas, when he had even been able to make them see that Helen was misguided in her attempts to vilify her son-in-law.
In thinking about Helen, Andrew realized that in the midst of the confusion resulting from Peter’s confession, he still didn’t know what had happened to her. He knew beyond a doubt that his brother hadn’t killed her, but as he saw Mart crying he knew that his nephew believed she was dead. He left Diana trying to soothe his nephew and made his way to the nurses’ station.
“Excuse me, miss, but…,”
The blonde nurse interrupted. “Sir, I understand your concern, but I promise I will tell you when there are any updates concerning Mrs. Regan and Miss Wheeler. Now, if you’ll excuse me,” she turned back to the folder she was scribbling in.
“I appreciate that, but could you tell me the condition of another patient? Helen Belden came through here a while ago.”
“Sir, we can only give that information to relatives. Now, if you’ll excuse me…,” she bent once again to her work.
Andrew Belden forced himself to bite his tongue. Trying to stay calm, he said, “Helen is my sister-in-law; her husband, Peter Belden, is my brother. I have every right to know that information.”
“Why, you have had a rough evening, haven’t you?” she said sarcastically. “As soon as I hear anything…,” she trailed off as Dr. Ferris approached.
“Yes, Doctor?” she asked in a syrupy voice.
“Nurse, go wait for me in my office,” he said briskly, picking up the intercom. He called for another nurse to take over the front desk, then turned to Andrew.
“Dr. Ferris, how are they?” Andrew asked hesitantly, watching as the nurse stalked away.
“Andy, you know that Trixie’s going to be fine. We were planning to release her first thing in the morning, but I think it’s going to be best to keep her here for at least a couple more days, depending on what happens. She’s been under a great deal of stress today, even though she’s now resting comfortably. When you see her, and I’m advising her husband of this as well, I don’t want her to have any sudden shocks until she has recovered from this afternoon. Then, we will break it to her gently. Understand?”
“Yes, I agree, but…,” he trailed off.
Dr. Ferris said gently, “When he found Helen, Peter went into shock. As Brian correctly diagnosed, he was suffering from hysteria when he came in. I gave him a sedative to help him calm down. Brian’s with him now, although it would be a good idea for you to visit with him when he wakes up.”
Andrew nodded, asking, “Is Helen, um,” he took a deep breath before blurting, “is she dead?”
The kindly doctor hesitated briefly before answering. “Andy, she took an entire bottle of sleeping pills. They had already gotten into her system when Peter found her. She’s still alive, but only barely. If he had been thirty minutes later, it would have been too late. As it is, well, we’re doing everything we can.”
Re-entering the waiting room, Andrew dreaded breaking the news to Mart and Diana. He knew from the doctor’s words that Helen had very little chance of survival. He wondered if it would be best to let Mart go on thinking that she was already gone, rather than to raise his hopes only to have them dashed again within hours or even minutes. Somewhat to his relief, he found Diana sitting alone.
“Where’s Mart?” he asked softly.
“He went to the chapel,” she replied. “He said he needed to be by himself for a while.”
Andrew nodded in understanding. He would have enjoyed that same solace, although years of experience had taught him that he had to be the strong one in the family. When his parents had died, he had been the one to make all of the arrangements, the one to console the rest of the family. His own grieving had been pushed aside until he wasn’t needed so badly. Sitting in silence with Diana, he realized that Brian had exhibited that same strength earlier in the evening. When Peter had spoken, Brian had remained outwardly calm as he spoke assuring words to his father. He had left him only long enough to request that medical attention be given to him. Even then, he had refused to leave him, not wanting his father to be left alone in his weakened condition. Andrew sighed for Brian, he had sometimes wondered if that strength were a blessing or a curse.
Mart still had not returned by the time a nurse came in search of Andrew. She told him that Peter was awake and wanted to see him. He followed her down the hall, after reassuring Diana that Mart would be back soon.
He walked into the room where his older brother lay on the bed. He appeared calmer than he had earlier, but Andrew could tell that he was hurting inside. Peter stared listlessly at the flowers painted on the wall, as Brian motioned his uncle outside.
“Uncle Andrew, he really believes he killed Moms. He knows she chose to take the pills, but says that he drove her to do it. Will you talk to him? I’ve tried everything I know to convince him, but maybe he’ll listen to you.”
“Yes, I’ll try to get through to him. Brian, has Dr. Ferris told you anything about your mother’s condition?”
He nodded briefly, but said, “I found one of the notes in Dad’s pocket. One of the paramedics handed me the other one. Dad hasn’t read the one to Trixie, I could tell that he hadn’t even opened it. I couldn’t stand not knowing, I had to read it. I read it while he was still sleeping. Uncle Andrew, she, she…” he paused as his voice began to break. “She finally admitted she was wrong.”
Go on to the Conclusion