Authors: Vanessa Grant
Emma scratched gently under the cat's chin, evoking a soothing purr. Then she picked up the phone and called her answering service, although she knew Chris would have called the office or the house, not her service.
When Chris had promised to call by the twelfth, he would have meant before midnight. It was only eight now. Two healthy boys—young men, really—traveling north in a kayak. They'd be telling the tale of their journey to someone at the docks in Prince Rupert. Then, soon, Chris would phone.
She walked to the kitchen, careful not to trip on Marmalade, who jumped down to twist around her ankles. Emma opened the freezer and pulled out frozen lasagna and a foil-wrapped loaf of frozen garlic bread. She set the oven and put the lasagna in, then turned the timer to thirty minutes to remind her to add the bread.
Then she opened a tin of food for Marmalade.
When she heard the doorbell, she called out, "In here, Alex."
He knew the way.
They'd known each other ever since Emma joined the Green Children's Clinic after finishing her residency, four years ago. They consulted frequently in the course of their work. Alex was the clinic's general pediatrics specialist and frequently referred children to Emma for orthopedic surgery.
After Paul died, Alex had asked Emma to dinner a few times over the years, always casually, never pushing it or making her uncomfortable.
She hadn't needed a man in her life. She'd had Chris, and her mother who had joined their household after Emma's father died. The three of them made a complete unit.
Then, abruptly, the house emptied. First Chris moved into a dorm at the university last September. Too young, she'd thought, but he'd finished high school a year early and she knew she couldn't hold him back. Then, at Christmas, Emma's mother had married the widower next door and headed for Florida in a motor home.
After six months of living in an empty house, working too late and growing increasingly exhausted, Emma began to accept Alex's invitations.
"I wish Chris would phone," she said, as she tore the lettuce into shreds.
"He'll call." Alex slid onto one of the stools in her breakfast nook. "He'll be fine."
"I know, but I'll be antsy until he calls. Don't try to talk me out of it."
"All right, I won't." He picked up a piece of lettuce from the bowl and ate it. "I think we should get married."
"Married, a ceremony at the courthouse, then I move in here or you move into my place. Your place is bigger."
A strand of blonde hair fell across her eyes. She shoved it out of the way. "You're trying to distract me so I won't worry about Chris. I know it's not time to worry yet. He's seventeen, almost eighteen. He's been taking Outward Bound wilderness excursions since he was fourteen. He knows what he's doing, and I really don't think anything's happened. It's just—"
Alex stood and walked around the end of the counter, took her shoulders in his hands and turned her to face him. "If he doesn't call tonight, it will be because the weather turned foul and he's sensibly huddled in a tent with that friend of his."
"Yes, you're right." Of course he was right. "Jordy's with him. If anything happened, surely—I think I'll call the Coast Guard and check the weather forecast for the north coast."
She saw the smile in his eyes, realized what a nice man he was, and tried to relax. Chris wasn't overdue, wouldn't be for at least three hours.
"I do think we should get married." He squeezed her hands. "You're alone. So am I. We like each other, enjoy spending time together. We're both accustomed to beepers going off and canceled dinners."
"You make it sound like a recipe for a sensible dinner." She withdrew her hands. "What about mad love and undying passion?"
"Affection and comfortable lust are better."
She'd liked him from the first time she met him, but perhaps never more than in this moment, as he watched her with humor in his eyes and waited for her answer. If she said
he'd be disappointed. She didn't want to disappoint him.
In the silence, a beeper went off and her hand went to her waist.
"Mine," he said, "I'll call."
He went into the next room and picked up the phone. Mechanically, she finished tearing lettuce for the salad. Chris would call tonight, or he'd call tomorrow to say the weather was foul and they'd been fogged in somewhere, huddling in their tent with the kayaks high on a beach. Everything would be fine.
Alex returned to the kitchen carrying his jacket in one hand.
"E.R. One of my babies came in with a high fever. I'm sorry."
Dinner would have been pleasant. Now she'd be alone with too much salad, worrying needlessly about Chris.
He touched her hair and brushed a light kiss on her cheek. "I do care about you, Emma. I think we could make a decent job of being married."
"Yes," she agreed. "I will marry you."
* * *
Alex called at ten to say he'd admitted the baby to the hospital and to ask if she had heard from Chris.
"Shall I come keep you company?"
"I'd better sleep."
"So long as you do. Remember,
"I know. Thanks, Alex."
She called Jordy's father at eleven and they agreed the boys were probably fine. If Chris hadn't called by morning, Emma would call the Coast Guard.
She drank a pot of tea with the music on low so it wouldn't mask the ringing of the telephone. The night would have passed more quickly if her beeper had gone off, but the little black box remained silent.
She couldn't possibly wait until morning.
At two-thirty, she called the Canadian Coast Guard to report Chris Garrett and Jordon Sanger overdue in Prince Rupert. She made the call with a pen in hand, writing down details about Coast Guard procedure. A radio notice would go out to mariners, describing the boys, the kayaks, and their planned route. By morning it was possible someone would have responded with information.
She drank part of a cup of warm milk, then poured the rest into a dish for Marmalade. Somewhere near dawn, she managed to sleep for half an hour.
She'd been a single mother since Paul's death three years ago. Chris had always been an adventurous child, and she'd spent other nights worrying. She knew the images of storms and marauding bears playing out in her mind were probably just fantasies.
She remembered another night when Chris hadn't come home, hadn't called. He'd driven into the mountains with Sherry Adamson for an afternoon's skiing. Sherry's mother had been certain they'd crashed the car, and Emma hadn't slept, either, because Chris was always so good about calling when he was late.
Morning had come, and at ten Chris phoned to say that he and Sherry had driven down a side road on the way home, exploring a frozen creek. Afterward, they couldn't get the car started and had wisely decided to camp in the car until they could walk out in the daylight.
Emma got up at six, showered and forced herself to eat two pieces of toast and drink a glass of orange juice. She had patients, surgery this morning. No matter how worried she was, she must be alert and steady in the operating room.
She called the Coast Guard again.
"They're probably just behind schedule," a young serviceman said. "There's a lot of coastline in British Columbia, with villages few and far between. It's remote country with very few telephones. Don't worry, we'll keep the notice to mariners on. If they don't turn up soon, we'll start a full search."
She got out the map on which she'd marked Chris's planned route. Miles of coastline and so few settlements. She needed to
something, but she didn't know the coastline, knew nothing about boats and wilderness. That had been Graham MacKenzie's world, and oddly, it was also the world her son loved.
It never had been and never would be Emma's world.
She set her answering machine, picked up her medical bag, and went to the hospital for morning rounds. Timmy Jones complained of pain, but his blood pressure and color were good, so she left instructions for physical therapy to get him up on crutches later in the day. This was Thursday, one of her O.R. days, so after she'd seen her other children, she scrubbed for a fractured femur on a ten-year-old boy.
When Chris still hadn't called at noon, she spent ten minutes on the phone with the Coast Guard and learned Chris and Jordy had been seen on the weekend in southern Grenville Channel.
"No one's seen them since? Something must have happened there."
"Not necessarily," the voice explained in the calming tones she herself used when speaking to worried parents. "Southern Grenville Channel is narrow. Any boat passing a couple of kayaks would be bound to notice them. Further north, the channel widens and it would be easy to miss a couple of kayakers. They'd be paddling close to shore because there's been a north wind. They'd get some lee near the shore, and when the current's running against them, they'd want to catch the backwash."
Emma knew about reducing fractures and repairing deformed bones. She knew nothing about currents and prevailing winds. She'd never been comfortable with the idea of wilderness, but she'd encouraged Chris when he showed interest. She wished now she'd learned more herself. It was years since she'd felt inept because of her sheltered city upbringing—not since the last time she saw Gray MacKenzie.
Today, she'd give anything to know exactly what Chris was facing out there.
Over lunch with Alex in the hospital cafeteria, she told him about the notice to mariners, about Chris and Jordy being spotted in Grenville Channel.
"There must be something I can do," she said, fighting her growing fear.
"You're used to being in control, Emma, but you can't control this. You need to accept that all you can do is wait, phone the Coast Guard, and meanwhile keep yourself busy and try not to worry too much."
It wasn't bad advice, but she had no patience for it.
On the way back to her office, she walked into the newsstand and stood staring at a variety of newspapers. What did she think she would find here? News about Chris? Boats went overdue every day, and two seventeen-year-old boys were close enough to being men that there was nothing newsworthy about one of them having failed to call his mother by midnight on the twelfth of August.
If Chris had broken his leg, she'd know what questions to ask the doctors, and she'd make sure he got the best care available. If he'd failed an exam, she'd talk with him, sympathize with him, and help him learn the material for next time.
There must be
she could do.
If this were a medical case beyond her skills, she'd call in another specialist. That's what she needed, a specialist. Someone with a boat, perhaps, for searching the coast. Someone with intimate knowledge of the coastline from southern Grenville Channel to Prince Rupert. A guide.
Her gaze focused on a rack of magazines above the newspapers—wilderness magazines designed for people who wanted to plan wilderness trips. There'd be advertisements in a magazine like that. Perhaps the expert she needed would be right here in this newsstand, advertising services.
She bought copies of
Field and Stream, Pacific Yachting,
She rolled the magazines and stuffed them in her handbag, then hurried across the street to the medical center. In her office, with ten minutes before her first patient, she shut the door and checked her answering machine at home, then called the Coast Guard again. This time she was referred to the Rescue Coordination Center. The official search for her son had begun, but after five minutes on the phone with the rescue center, she still felt worried, and sick to death of hearing the words "It's a big coastline."
Vanda rang through to tell her Cindy Harrington had arrived.
Young Cindy was shy and slowly getting over a terror of people dressed in white, so Emma slipped off the lab coat she'd been wearing and replaced it with her gray jacket before she went out to the waiting room.
"Hi, Cindy. Come on in."
When Emma stepped back to let Cindy go ahead, her gaze caught the magazine on Vanda's desk, the man on the cover so vibrant he could have been right here in her office. Emma approached the magazine as if it were alive. The photographer had caught the tough wildness of the man so vividly that for a second Emma thought his blazing blue eyes were staring at her.
"Vanda, can I borrow this magazine?"
"Sure, but hey, Emma, how come I never meet men like that hunk on the cover?"
What would Vanda think if she knew that Emma Garrett, specialist in pediatric orthopedics, had once been Gray MacKenzie's girl?
After Cindy was gone, Emma opened the magazine and found more pictures of Gray. His hair was still that rich shade of copper, still unruly and filled with deep slow waves. His face had changed the most. The lines of character had deepened from looking into the sun and from the harsh wind and the outdoors.
She read the article carefully. Prominent wildlife photographer. Details of his career Emma already knew. A picture of the man and his life, but not a lot of personal data. It was written by a woman and Emma suspected the journalist had fallen a little in love with Gray herself, but Gray hadn't revealed much more than the public information.
He lived on a wilderness island on the Canadian west coast. That's where he'd gone when he left her, somewhere just a few miles south of Alaska. He'd been there for years. She'd bought every one of his books, but hadn't known where he lived until now.
The only family mentioned in the article was a dog named Chico. Gray had always said he would have a dog when he got away from the city.
Emma pulled out the map she'd brought to work with her that morning. She searched for a long time before she found Stephens Island. When she found it, she knew what she was going to do.
The article said Gray owned his own seaplane. He would know the coast intimately. Of course he would. The critics attacked Gray for the chances he took to get breathless pictures of grizzly bears and mountain lions, but they all admitted no one could capture the essence of the wilderness like Gray. It was his place, his home.