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Authors: Karen Welch

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BOOK: Shannon's Daughter
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He
started off with a heartfelt thank you that Peg had injured nothing more vital
than an ankle, adding his gratitude for the doctor’s quick and competent response.
 
He went on to the root of his present fears,
that Michael Shannon would at the very least verbally thrash him to within an inch
of his life for such disastrous dereliction of duty.
 
He prayed for the strength to take his
punishment like a man, not beg for understanding or try to shift the
blame.
 
Somewhere in his awkward litany
he knew there needed to be a confession, an admission that he’d been selfish in
remaining behind, that he had not taken his responsibility seriously.
 
If he’d been on the job, Peg wouldn’t be
lying here now with that ugly cast on her foot, would not have suffered the
pain and fear of the past hour.
 
At the vivid
memory of her blue eyes wide and frightened, tears began to drip onto his hands
where he’d unconsciously folded them on the sheet.
 
Under his breath, he muttered, “Oh, God in
heaven, I am so sorry!”

“What
are you doing?”
 
Her voice was hoarse, the
words slurred.
 
He opened his eyes to
find her watching him from beneath heavy lids.

Without
a thought for his dignity, he half-sobbed, “I’m praying, if you don’t mind.
 
We Methodists have been known to do that,
too, you know.”

“Why?
 
I mean, why are you praying?
 
I’m not going to die or
anything,
am I?’

“No,
but you scared
me
half to death, and
your father’s probably going to finish the job when he sees what’s happened.”

“Oh.
 
Is that all?
 
Don’t worry.
 
I can handle
Dad.”
 
She struggled to raise herself
higher on the pillow.
 
“I thought
something really awful had happened.”
 
She eyed the cast, twisting her lips in a grimace.
 
“Good grief, look at that thing.
 
Oh, well, at least I won’t have to go to that
stupid party now.”

Laughter
bubbled up his throat, catching on another sob.
 
“Peg Shannon, you are by far the most vexing little girl. . .”
 
Her eyes flashed a warning.
 
“Sorry,
young
lady
, I’ve ever had the dubious pleasure of knowing.
 
I shudder to think what sort of woman you’ll
grow up to be.”

She
dropped her head back on the pillow, a slow smile curving her lips.
 
“If you’re lucky, you’ll be around to find
out, won’t you?”

He
thought she might have drifted off until her eyes flew open and she exclaimed
softly, “Oh, drat!
 
You’d better call Hannah.
 
I guess you’ll have to carry me upstairs.”

He
would ask.
 
“Why?”

“I have
to go.
 
Now!”


Go.
. .?”
 
Perhaps the
drug had rendered her delusional?

Only
when she groaned in disgust at his rank stupidity did he comprehend.
 
“Oh.
 
Right.
 
Hannah!”

 

Chapter Six

 

Kendall
decided only some gross miscommunication, or possibly divine intervention,
could be responsible for the fact that he was being celebrated as the hero of
Peg’s near-tragic adventure.
 
While
Michael had
blustered
some rather harsh words upon his
return, promising to discuss the matter further once he’d seen his daughter,
after thirty minutes closeted in the parlor with Peg, he seemed to have a complete
change of heart.

“Young
man, I owe you an apology,” was the farthest thing from what Kendall had
anticipated as he waited in the kitchen.
 
Watching glumly as Hannah prepared supper for the fishing party, he’d
considered packing his bags in preparation for eviction.
 
If the brief conversation he’d overheard
between the doctor and Peg’s father was any indication of Michael’s mood,
Kendall felt certain his stay in Ireland was about to be cut short.
 

He’d
been pleased to hear the doctor calmly answer Michael’s hissing inquisition
when the two met outside the parlor door.
 
But the doctor was armed with his professional expertise, justifying his
decision to treat Peg here rather than subjecting her to the rough drive into
town.
 
He further promised that if it
would make him feel better, Michael could bring her in the following day for an
x-ray, although he felt sure it would show nothing but a simple fracture which
he’d successfully set with a minimum of force.
 
The two men had at least parted respectfully.
 
When the doctor passed Kendall on his way
out, he’d given him a bracing clap on the shoulder and a sympathetic nod.

Blinking
stupidly, he now accepted Michael’s outstretched hand, unwilling to believe he
was getting off so easily.
 
“Apology, sir?”

“Peg
has told me how calmly you handled the situation.
 
It’s obvious you took fine care of my little
girl, son.
 
I’m not sure I would have
done as well, myself.
 
I tend to be
overly emotional, I’m afraid, when it comes to Peg.”

He had
the presence of mind to give Peg the credit due.
 
“She’s a remarkable girl, sir.
 
She barely shed a tear, which is more than I
can say for myself.”
 

Michael
smiled wanly.
 
“You had a bit of rough
day, I’m sure.
 
And I’m afraid I’m going
to impose on you further.”

“Anything,
please, just name it.”

“Peg
wants to go back to the flat.
 
I would
have stayed here, but she insists she’ll sleep better in her own bed.
 
I haven’t the heart to refuse her, but I’m
afraid I can’t get her up those stairs.
 
Would you mind spending a night in town?
 
I wouldn’t ask you to drive back out tonight.”

Without
hesitating, he leapt at the opportunity to be of service, begging a minute to
throw a few things in a bag.
 
Only as he
raced up the stairs did it occur to him that he and Michael would be the only
ones on hand to help with whatever a young girl might need in the middle of the
night.
 
Surely one of the women in the
family should take on the role of nurse?

Back
down with bag in hand, he suggested as much to Michael, who’d settled in a
chair near the divan to watch Peg sleep.
 
“The girls are coming back on the last train, won’t be here until around
midnight.
 
We’ll manage tonight just fine
and Katie will be in in the morning.
 
I
suppose we’ll have to wake her now, won’t we?
 
She looks to be sleeping pretty soundly since she took that tablet the
doctor left for the pain.”
 
Despite the
chill of apprehension creeping up his spine, Kendall was touched by the tenderness
with which Michael patted his daughter’s shoulder.
 
“Peg, love, it’s time to go home.”

The
move wasn’t accomplished without incident.
 
Peg roused only enough to drape limp arms around Kendall’s neck, moaning
words to the effect that he’d better not drop her.
 
The cast seemed to have added a good fifteen
pounds to her not insubstantial frame, and he felt the strain across his
shoulders as he carried her through the house.

Their
eventual arrival at the car produced an awkward moment.
 
There was no graceful way to place her in the
rear seat, although he tried various angles of approach, all in vain.
 
Inadvertently banging her head on the doorframe
did bring her around momentarily.
 
She
responded with an angry grunt and a not so girlish punch in the general
direction of his chin.
 

“Sorry!
 
Can you at least scoot yourself across the
seat.
 
I’ll lift your cast, all right?”
 
They finally succeeded in getting her
arranged more or less comfortably on the seat.
 
Hannah passed a pillow and blanket in, cautioning him to go gently on
the trip into town.

“Wouldn’t
want to upset her, you know.
 
She hasn’t
eaten and those tablets can be hard on the tummy.”
 
Leaning in the window, she said gently, “You
take care now, dearie.
 
You’ll be right
as rain in no time.”
 
Peg’s response was a
drowsy snort.

About
three miles over hill and down dale and in the rearview mirror, he noticed Peg
moving restlessly.
 
“All right back
there, darlin’?” Michael asked, reaching a comforting hand in her direction.

“No!
 
Stop!
 
I’m gonna be sick!”
 
Reaching up,
she grabbed a fistful of Kendall’s shirt, tethering him to the seat.
 
“Stop, now!” she ordered through clenched teeth.

“Let go
of me, Peg!
 
You’re choking me!”
 
Released from her grasp, he’d steered to the
verge, flung himself out of the car and opened the rear door in time to snatch
up the blanket and thrust it in more or less the necessary position as Peg
hunched forward.
 
Somewhere on the
periphery he was aware of Michael moaning in sympathy, but he seemed to have
put some distance between himself and the current unpleasantness.

When
the retching finally ceased and the now sadly soiled blanket was discarded in
the roadside hedge, Peg lay back on the pillow with a sigh and promptly fell
asleep again.
 
For the remaining five
miles into town, Kendall held the car to a crawl, wondering what further
horrors awaited.
 
His faith in Michael as
any sort of nurse had evaporated when the man stood by while he, Kendall, held
Peg’s head as she heaved.
 
He considered
going to the station to meet the train and commandeering Adelaide’s services
for the night.
 

With
that idea still a comforting possibility, he coasted to the curb in front of
their destination.
 
While Michael went
ahead to open doors, Kendall was left to figure out the best way to extract the
patient from the car.
 
She was barely
awake, and obviously disoriented.
 
When
he touched her shoulder, she muttered “Stop, Connie.
 
I don’t want to go to the old dance,” and
swatted the air with a limp hand.

“Come
on, old girl.
 
Can’t you help me out even
a little bit here?
 
Just slide toward the
door so I can get my arm around you.”
 
He
watched her struggle to gather her wits, screwing up her face as though
preparing to move mountains.
 
“That’s it,
sweetheart.
 
Just a
little further now.”
 

“I
can’t!
 
I’m just too tired!”
 
To his dismay, she slumped forward, head in
hands, sobbing pitifully.

He had the
irrational urge to do the same.
 
“Please
don’t cry, Peg.
 
Here, give me your
hands.
 
I’ll pull and you push, how’s
that?”
 
This time she came close to
easing out of the car, and he awkwardly slid his hand beneath her knees,
wondering what damage might be done to his spine when he lifted her.

“Don’t!
 
I can walk.”
 
He’d heard drunken school mates speak more coherently.
 
Whatever that tablet had been, he questioned
the wisdom of dispensing anything so potent to a minor.

“No you
cannot
walk.
 
There’s a twenty-pound cast on your leg.
 
Look!
 
Surely you haven’t forgotten
that
!”

She
stared at the cast, a look of surprise dawning in her eyes.
 
“Oh.
 
Will you carry me?
 
I can’t walk.”
 
In the dim light of a nearby streetlamp, her
face was touchingly innocent, the smattering of freckles standing out in stark
relief against her pallor.
 
Something in
the area of his heart twisted at the sight.

“That’s
the plan.”
 
He took advantage of the
moment to heft her into his arms, turning to find Michael had been standing
patiently in the doorway throughout the scene.
 
“Just hang on, now.
 
We’ll get you
upstairs to bed in no time.”
 
No idea
where that bit of optimism had come from.
 
Trudging up that narrow staircase without further damaging one or both
of them seemed doubtful at best.
 

They
reached the second floor with only a little less effort than he’d feared.
 
Winded and mildly light-headed, he followed
Michael into Peg’s bedroom.
 
Waiting
while he turned back the bedclothes and plumped the pillows, Kendall took a
moment to check the patient.
 
“How’re you
doing?
 
Ready for a good rest, I’ll bet.”

“I
guess.
 
Dad, I’m hungry.
 
Is there anything here to eat?”
 
Although her voice was still slurred, she
seemed far more alert than only a few minutes earlier.
 

“Is it
wise to eat,
after.
. .well, you were pretty ill back
there.”
 
His own voice sounded notably
strained.
 
He wondered just how long it
took to prepare a bed for an injured princess as Michael smoothed the sheets
and further adjusted the pillows.
 

“There
now.
 
Where’s your nightie, darlin’?”

“I
don’t need it now, Dad.
 
Kendall, put me
down, will you?”
 
She wiggled
impatiently, which he accepted as a positive sign that she was returning to
normal.
 

He
settled her on the
mattress,
certain he heard a complaining
crack from his lumbar region as he stood upright again.
 
“How’s that?”

“Good.
 
Wonderful actually.
 
I’m feeling much better.
 
Dad, I really need something to eat.
 
Please.”

“Very
well.
 
I’ll see what Katie left in the icebox.
 
Kendall, what about you?
 
Did you get your dinner tonight?”

He
realized he hadn’t eaten since morning.
 
“No, sir.
 
But don’t
trouble yourself on my account.”

“Nonsense.
 
I wouldn’t mind a bite myself.
 
You stay here with our little patient and I’ll put together a picnic for
us, how’s that darlin’?”

“Fine,
Dad.
 
Thank you.”
 
She turned her eyes up to Kendall, eyes much
clearer and brighter now.
 
“I’m sorry.
 
Did you hurt yourself lugging me around like
that?”

“Oh,
nothing permanent, I’m sure.
 
How are you
feeling?”

“Better.
 
Don’t let Dad give me another of those
tablets, even if I’m screaming with pain.
 
Ugh!
 
If that’s what it feels like
to be drunk, I’m never taking a drink!
 
That’s for sure.”

He
chuckled, instinctively reaching out to smooth her matted hair.
 
“You’ve had more than your share tonight, kid.
 
How’s the ankle?’

“What
ankle?”
 
She managed a weak but
nonetheless impudent grin.
 
“I’ll bet you
never volunteer to mind a bunch of kids again, huh?”

BOOK: Shannon's Daughter
11.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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