Feedback: Yes, please
Archive: Here, anywhere else let me know
Written: Fall 2000
Time Frame: approximately 7 yrs. After series ended (Should be 1994-ish, assuming ages for Phillip (21), Jamie (19), Amanda (43), Joe (44))
Rating: PG, I think
Notes: Marriage is public knowledge.
More Notes: I've read several stories taking place present day-ish that have Joe dead, but no one ever goes into what happened. So I took the idea and ran with it, hope nobody minds. Sorry about the melancholy subject matter, but this idea just kept popping into my head, so I figured the way to get rid of it was to write it out.
A few more notes: The brief description of medical procedures given in this story comes from my personal experiences while serving in the military. I worked as a medical specialist (similar to an LPN in the civilian world) and dealt with a few heart attack cases. If there are any medical professionals out there who feel that I've misrepresented this information, please let me know.
Thank You: Extreme thanks goes to the wonderful members of the smkauthors group for their invaluable input into improving this short story in both grammar and plot.
Lee and Amanda Stetson had finally fallen into bed together after a hectic day filled with family and friends. "I'm so glad the boys both made it to the barbecue," Amanda said softly into her husband's chest.
"I know," he responded while gently stroking her hair, "it seems like forever since we were all here at the same time. Your mother looks great, by the way. She and Thomas were made for each other. I still can't get over the way they look at each other!"
"They're in love. What I can't believe is that they eloped after only knowing each other for four months, but I have to admit, I haven't seen her this happy since before Daddy died." They were both quiet for a moment, content to just be together.
"You know, Mrs. Stetson," Lee whispered as he began running his hand up and down her back, "I never get tired of holding you. Have I told you how beautiful you are?"
"Once or twice, but you could try saying it again." Amanda smiled up at her sexy husband. They started to kiss, softly and tenderly, neither in a rush. Just as Lee was about to slide his hand under Amanda's silk nightie, the phone rang. Sighing deeply, she rolled over to answer it. "Hello?"
"Amanda." The woman on the other end had obviously been crying, she sounded lost and desperate.
"Carrie, is that you?" Amanda sat up in bed, completely forgetting where she and Lee were headed only moments before.
"Oh God, Amanda, I don't know what to do. Amanda, Joe's at the hospital. Please come down here." Her voice was cracking with emotion as she forced the words out.
"Okay, I'm on my way. What room? Alright, we'll be there
in a few minutes." Amanda knew that something must be terribly wrong
with Joe. His second wife, Carrie, was a professional woman and Amanda
had never seen her lose her self-control over anything. "Lee, I have
to go to the hospital," she said, climbing out of bed and grabbing some
clothes. "That was Carrie;
it's Joe. She wants me there right away."
"Do you want me to come?" Lee knew that Amanda and Carrie had become friends over the years, and he respected that she and Joe had remained so close too, but he didn't want her to have to face whatever this was without him.
"Actually, if you could call mother and the boys for me, I'd really appreciate it. The boys will probably need a ride, so I'll take your car and you can take mine. I'll see you at the hospital when you can get there. Okay?" She knew he wanted to be with her, and that alone comforted her, but neither Phillip nor Jamie had a car at college and they should be there too.
"Alright Sweetheart, we'll be there as soon as possible." By now, he too was up and dressed, so together they headed downstairs. He kissed her goodbye as she went out the back door. Lee headed to the phone in the kitchen and began to dial.
At the hospital:
"Carrie, what's going on, what happened?" The words were out of Amanda's mouth the instant she saw the pretty blonde Joe had married more than six years earlier. Carrie had been sitting alone in a small waiting area with her face in her hands, trying to hold back the tears. As Amanda approached, she noticed the Rosary held tightly between the younger woman's fingers.
"Oh Amanda," she responded as she heard the voice coming down the hall. "I'm so glad you're here. Where's Lee?"
"He's bringing the boys. Now, will you tell me what happened? Was Joe in an accident?"
Carrie looked down for a moment, then with a deep breath, began; "You
know how I called earlier to say that we couldn't make it to the barbecue
because Joe wasn't feeling well? He'd been having what he thought
was stomach trouble all day. Then, about 10:30 tonight, he told me
to call an ambulance. He said he couldn't feel his left arm.
By the time the paramedics
got there, he was on the floor, gasping for air. They said he was having a heart attack! He's too young to have a heart attack, Amanda! He's not even 50 yet!"
As Amanda absorbed this onslaught of information, she tried to maintain some semblance of control. "How is he now?"
"They brought him in through the ER. The doctor there got him stabilized and they moved him up here to the Cardiac Care Unit. I didn't even know what a CCU was when the nurse told me to come up here. What will I do if I lose him? He's the only family I have." She sounded like a small child, so frail and scared.
"First of all, no negative thinking. Secondly, you have us: Mother, Thomas, Lee, Phillip, Jamie, and me. We're your family too." Just then, the elevator opened and both boys rushed to their mother. Lee also came in, a bit more reserved, not sure what his place in this situation should be. He wanted to comfort his wife and stepsons, but he knew instinctively that, right now, this wasn't about him and so he held back, waiting to see where he was needed.
Amanda gently led her sons, young men now, to chairs and told them what
little she knew. As she did, she noticed Lee standing uncomfortably
off to the side, but before she could say anything to him, he looked at
Carrie. Seeing the fearful, solitary look she had, he went to her
and encircled her with his arms. She put her head on his muscular
shoulder and began to
cry as he whispered soothing reassurances to her. Despite the circumstances, Amanda smiled. He was such a caring man. She felt her heart swell with love.
Moments later, all Hell broke loose. As the family sat together, joined now by Dotty and Thomas, an alarm klaxon began to sound. Over the intercom, a monotonous voice announced, "Code Blue, CCU 3. Code Blue, CCU 3."
"That's Joe's room." Carrie was on her feet and heading down the hall before anyone could stop her. The rest of the family was close behind.
As they neared the room, a barrage of medical staff appeared, each one headed into Joe's room with a single-minded purpose, to stop this man from dying. A nurse approached the family and smiled warmly while maintaining a professional stance. "Please go back to the waiting room. Standing here, you'll only be in the way," and leaning closer to Lee she said quietly, "besides, some medical procedures are best not seen by loved ones." He understood completely and tried to move everyone back down the hall. Finally, Carrie alone remained at the full-glass window peering into her husband's room. The doctors, nurses, and technicians were working frantically all around the bed as she stood watching.
"Carrie, please..." Lee began.
"I can't even see him," she cried, "between the staff and the machines, you can't even tell that there's a person lying in that bed!" She leaned on the glass, her fingers splayed out as if to touch him.
Lee tried to know what to say, tried to understand what she was going through. The closest he could come was remembering when Amanda had flat-lined after being shot on their honeymoon. He'd gotten her back though, and thanked God for it everyday. Right now, he could only hope that Carrie's husband would return to her too. "Come on, you shouldn't be here right now;" with that, he gently guided her away from the window just before the desperate doctors cut into Joe's chest in an attempt to massage his heart into beating again.
About 45 minutes later, the King-Stetson family was pacing the floor
of the non-descript room going crazy from waiting, when a doctor finally
walked in. They ambushed him immediately, demanding answers to their
many questions. He calmly raised his hands and asked them all to
sit. When everyone had settled as best as possible, he went to Carrie
and kneeled before her
chair. "I'm so sorry," he began softly, but before he could continue she broke out in sobs. Amanda leaned over to her and the boys gathered in front of them as they huddled together. The doctor moved away silently and Lee approached him.
"What happened?" He asked resignedly.
"Mr. King suffered a massive heart attack. We did everything humanly possible, but the damage was too extreme. When they're ready," he indicated the small group still clinging to each other and crying, "they can see him if they want."
"Thank you, Doctor. I know you did your best." With that, the doctor nodded and walked away. Lee saw Thomas comforting Dotty, so he went to join his wife and stepsons and Carrie.
The lights were dimmed in the large room, now cleared of all moveable
equipment. Joe King looked like a man in a peaceful sleep, except
for the stillness of his chest. It had stopped its rhythmic rise
and fall over an hour ago. All of the tubes that had been placed
into his body were still intact, the IV and oxygen tubes being the most
noticeable; but the gaping hole that had been cut in his chest along the
left side of his ribcage had been stitched up and the blankets were pulled
up to shoulder height to hide
the hideous, but potentially life-saving, wound.
While Phillip and Jamie went to whisper good-byes to their father, Carrie called a nurse to the window of the room and indicated the tubing. "Can't that be removed now? It's so disgraceful a way to be remembered."
"I'm sorry," the veteran nurse answered, "they have to remain in place until after the autopsy."
Carrie nodded and the nurse walked away. After the boys came out, Dotty asked to go in. Then it was Amanda's turn. Lee started to go with her, but she stopped him and asked to be alone. He obliged with a look of concern on his face.
"Joe, I want you to know that we'll take care of Carrie. She'll always be family; you don't have to worry. And the boys will be fine too. They're already remarkable young men, and they'll only get better I'm sure. So, Honey, you just rest now. Save me a spot in Heaven, and someday, we'll all be together again." She leaned over him and lightly kissed his forehead. "Goodbye, Sweetheart. I'll always love you."
Lee had entered the room just before she kissed him and heard her final words. When he came up behind her, she relaxed back into his waiting arms. He asked her if he could be alone for a moment. She eyed him curiously, then nodded and left the room. Lee looked down at the still form lying on the bed. "I wanted to tell you not to worry. I'll take good care of Phillip and Jamie. They're incredible people and the closest I'll come to having children of my own. Thank you for letting me share in this wonderful family. I know we had some rocky moments, but you were a good man, Joe, and we will all miss you." As Lee headed out of the room, Carrie was on her way in. "We'll wait for you down the hall," he said to her. "Take as long as you need."
The next few days were filled with the usual craziness that any momentous
occasion brings: family and friends arriving from everywhere, all the arrangements
to be made, not to mention the emotions. Carrie had stayed at the
Stetson's upon their insistence. It wasn't hard to convince her;
she didn't want to be alone. She had taken Dotty's old room and the
their old room instead of returning to their respective dorms.
Amanda had been unusually withdrawn for the past few days. She was trying to play hostess to family and outwardly keep up her spirits, but the tension was building. Lee had tried to talk to her repeatedly only to be told, "I'm fine." He knew that she was far from fine, but she refused to give in and let him close. It was so unlike her that it worried him.
The night before the funeral, as they entered their room exhausted from another hard day, their nerves were already tender. Amanda was brushing her hair when she began to cry. "What's wrong, Amanda?"
"What do you mean, what's wrong? Tomorrow morning I'm burying my husband, the father of my children," she poured out between gasping breaths.
"Ex-husband," Lee gently reminded her, although his anger was beginning to mount.
"I know he's my ex, Lee," she shot back at him.
"Amanda, I think I've been patient and I want to help you, but for days
now, I've felt shut out. I know he's the boys' father, but I'm your
husband. Talk to me, please." His voice got softer as he spoke,
he felt guilty for being selfish, but he missed his wife and didn't know
how to reach her. Amanda started to speak, to defend herself, but
Lee held up a hand to stop her. He had more to say and if he didn't
do it now, he might never say it. "You know, these past few days,
I've sat with both Phillip and
Jamie individually. They needed to talk to someone and I was there for them. I also spent time with Carrie yesterday. Mostly she cried, but she let me try to help her. Do you know how it makes me feel that I can help them, but my own wife won't talk to me?"
Amanda looked down at the ground. Suddenly she felt terribly guilty for the way she'd been treating him. "Oh Lee, I'm so sorry you feel that way," she said softly, joining him on the bed. They sat together for a moment before she continued, "You've been wonderful through this, for all of us. But try to understand, we were married for ten years and had two beautiful babies together. Besides you, he's the only man I was ever intimate with and in a way he'll always be a part of me. It's hard to accept that he's gone." She leaned against her husband's form as she said all this and her crying began to subside.
"Ssh, I know Honey, I'm sorry for being selfish, but I miss you. You know I don't handle it well when you cry, and that's all you've been doing for days. We'll all miss Joe, but let me help you through this." He held her tightly and spoke into her hair. She wanted nothing more at that moment than to feel his love.
"Lee," she started.
"Yea," he responded in a whisper.
"Make love to me. I need to feel you, to know you're here."
"I'll always be here for you," he answered.
As they slowly made love together, Amanda cried silent tears, but this time, they weren't tears of loss, but instead tears of joy and life and love.
As they lay together, cuddled as close as physically possible, Lee noticed she was crying and it frightened him. He raised up from her small form and tenderly brushed her cheek as he asked, "Amanda, are you okay? I'm not hurting you, am I?"
"No, Sweetheart, of course you're not. I'll be okay. I was thinking of how much I love you."
"I love you too, Amanda." He leaned in to kiss her and began again to slowly make love to his wife.