Authors: Theresa Rizzo
Tags: #Fiction, #Political, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Family & Relationships, #Love & Romance, #Medical
“This charming novel gracefully addresses embryonic stem cell research and garnishes it with a powerful, tender romance… the author handles the complexities of science and morality with tremendous care and nuance; there are no hypocrites or villains here, only loving people doing their best in terribly difficult situations. Contemporary romance readers of all political leanings will be enthralled.”
Copyright © 2015 by Theresa Rizzo
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this work may be reproduced in any fashion without the express, written consent of the copyright holder.
The Lives Between Us
is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed herein are fictitious and are not based on any real persons living or dead.
Cover design by Kim Killion,
The Killion Group
Book design by Lucinda Campbell,
LK E-Book Formatting
Just Beginning: A Prequel to Just Destiny
For my darling husband, John,
who supported my writing for decades,
well before he understood this crazy business.
He just wanted me to be happy,
and that means the world to me!
The subjects covered in this book required a phenomenal amount of research; still, I make no claims to be an authority on these topics. In an attempt to make the story as accurate as possible within the ever-changing world of politics, science, and medicine, I consulted with a multitude of experts to whom I’m very grateful for lending me their time and expertise. Any mistakes in the execution are entirely my own.
I’d like to thank Dr. Paul Rizzo for being my medical consultant and IRB (Institutional Review Board) information: Dr. Mike Rizzo for being another wonderful medical resource and remaining a great beta reader; To Dr. Thomas Matthew, who answered all my cardiology questions; and Dr. Bill Gambrell, who answered NICU and anesthesia medical questions.
Thanks also to Dr. Ali Rabbani, head of Pediatrics at St. John Hospital, who allowed me to observe the NICU, and Ms. Gayle Novack, Director of Women’s and Children’s Health at St. John’s Hospital, who facilitated my tour of the NICU. To Chita Jesalva, the manager of St. John Hospital and Medical Center’s NICU, who so kindly answered all my questions and gave me tour of the NICU.
To attorneys Robyn Meinhardt, Dayna Matthew, and Jayne Reardon for help interpreting Michigan law. To Dr. Vincent Ling, for his stem cell and research knowledge and vast patience in answering all my questions. To Dr. Noelle Gracy, another scientist consultant and writing pal.
Thank you, Janet Borrego of the Air Ambulance Specialists, and John Mukavitz, Master ski teacher at Lake Tahoe, who answered questions. A very special thank you to Andrew Uttride, who generously shared his partner, Marrianne Rooprai’s, Spinal Cord Injury story and his perspective of it.
To Everette Jackson for Mark’s classy pickup. To Willian Hyde, my political expert, who helped keep me realistic. Macomb Co. Sheriff Charles Missig, thanks for the legal help and fact-checking. Thank you Jody Flatt for helping me understand the cellular biology.
My sincerest thanks to beta readers: Dr. Clif Barnhardt, Jack Patton, James & Selene Kelly, and to Courtney Gambrell, who always has insightful thoughts on characterization.
Thank you to my writing pals, Sandra Kerns, Donnell Ann Bell, Leslie Ann Sartor, and Audra Harders. Thank you to Marni Molina for sharing her NICU knowledge.
To my fabulous cover designer, Kim Killion, and to my wonderful formatters, Donna Cook and Lucinda Campbell, who make my copy look great. To my incredible editor, Kerri-Leigh Grady, who helped make this book immeasurably better, revision after revision. After revision. Thank you for drawing the best out of me and the story!
To Susan Wiggs, for her unfailing support and encouragement. Susan, you are my very own Fairy Godmother. Thank you! To Helen Breitwieser at Cornerstone Literary who always had faith in this book.
Last but not least, to my invaluable beta readers, Jessica Peters and Jillian Cullinane—you guys keep me honest and help make each book exponentially stronger. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
Skylar Kendall darted into St. Francis Hospital’s revolving door, made one complete revolution, and burst out the entrance again. Still clutching her overnight bag and a shiny Mylar balloon, she kept her gaze lowered to the walkway as if it contained the most fascinating brickwork she’d ever seen.
Skye forced herself to relax her grip on the bag strap and balloon ribbons and swiped at the sweat moistening her forehead.
You can do this.
Skye took a deep breath, thrust her shoulders back, and headed toward the entrance again. Pausing before the revolving doorway, her resolve faltered as a gaunt woman with ashen skin and a navy turban covering her head plodded through the circular door as though in a trance.
Skye moved to the side, punched the silver handicapped disk, and waited for the door to slowly glide inward, then marched into the quiet lobby. Emotionally handicapped counted, she decided.
Skye gave the elderly volunteers manning the reception booth what she hoped was a casual nod and friendly smile before entering the elevator and gliding up to the pediatric floor. She paused outside her niece’s room, took a deep breath, and peeked through the cracked doorway.
Niki lay, small and pale, propped up in bed with a nasal cannula to pump vital air to her oxygen-starved heart. Dark smudges bruised the underside of her eyes, and her little bony chest rose and fell with visible effort. Her light blond hair seemed darker than usual against the pastiness of her face, and a faint roadmap of veins revealed themselves through her transparent, closed eyelids. With heart deterioration this advanced, just breathing proved an exhausting chore necessitating lots of sleep.
Faith sat in a chair next to the bed gently stroking her daughter’s hand, avoiding the clear IV tubing and its tape. Worried blue eyes stared at Niki’s chest as if she could ease her heart’s burden through will alone. Faith’s respirations mimicked Niki’s raspy rate. It had to be totally subconscious, an involuntary effort on a mother’s part to help and to reassure herself that her child still breathed. The lines of strain on Faith’s forehead vanished the instant Niki’s eyes fluttered open.
“Aunt Skye,” Niki called out. “You’re late.”
“Five minutes.” Skye smiled, pushed into the room and placed her packages on the chair. “Cut me some slack, kiddo.” She turned to her sister. “How do you put up with this tyrant?”
Faith shrugged. “She’s nice to me.”
“Is that for me?” Niki nodded at the big yellow smiley balloon.
“Nope, it’s for your mom ’cause she’s such a clown.” Skye glanced at the chair next to the door, then abandoned the idea of a quick exit strategy and settled on the end of Niki’s bed. Her hand moved across the rough blanket. A soft down comforter, a few of Niki’s teddy bears, and they might actually make this place less scary for Nik. “Of course it’s for you. How’re you feeling?”
“Okay. What else did you bring?”
Skye dragged her large bag onto her lap and unzipped it. “Let me see. I got KFC for me and Taco Bell for you.”
. It’s got too much sodium and processed stuff.”
“Is that so?” Skye pulled out Styrofoam containers. “Okay, how about broiled skinless chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, and chocolate-dipped bananas for dessert? And what sleepover would be complete without...” She lowered her voice. “Ta-da. Designer pajamas?”
She whipped out a brushed flannel nightie in a tiny bunny print, rimmed with cheery rainbow zigzag edging that continued past the gown to make up the ties. The back had overlapping tie closure for greater modesty. Skye held the custom hospital gown up and wiggled it back and forth before Niki. “What d’ya think?”
“How cute,” Faith said.
Niki brought it to her face and rubbed it against her cheek. “It’s so soft, but way too big for me.”
“That’s mine, silly.” Skye reached into her bag and tossed a matching gown on Niki’s lap. “This one’s for you.”
“Can I wear it now?”
“That’s the idea. And I brought my camera to commemorate the big event.” She lifted her Canon and zoomed in. “Closer, Faith. Say, ‘world’s best sleepover.’”
Faith slid onto the bed and Niki curled into her mother’s protective embrace like a small hermit crab easing into its shell. “World’s best sleepover,” they chimed.
If Nik had to spend weeks in the hospital, at least she could make it fun for her. Skye shot the picture and rested the camera on the bed.
“Did you find the movie?” Niki asked.
Skye affected an insulted look. “Of course.” She rummaged through the bag and pulled out the portable DVD player she’d bought at Walmart earlier that day, then retrieved the DVD and held it up. “
13 Going on 30
. Sure this is the one you want to see?”
Niki reached for the DVD and examined the packaging. “It reminds me of you and me. I’m the kid Jenna, and you’re the grown-up Jenna.”
Except that Jenna was a brunette, not blond, thirteen instead of nine, and had a healthy heart.
“Looks like you thought of everything except the popcorn and soda,” Faith said. “While you two are having your feast, I think I’ll go see what’s taking Daddy so long.”
“Don’t forget to say goodnight,” Niki said.
As Faith left the room, Skye pushed the bag aside. “So, eat first or change into our nighties?”
“Nighties. I’m not hungry.” Niki closed her eyes.
“O-kay.” Skye grabbed her nightie and located the bathroom door. Glancing at her niece, tethered by oxygen hose and IV, she paused. Niki probably never had the opportunity to change in the privacy of her bathroom. Modesty took a backseat to practicality and necessity in hospitals. Skye pushed out a deep breath of acceptance.
Metal scraped softly as Skye pulled the curtain far enough around Niki’s bed to block the door. She turned her back to Niki and, in record time, stripped and donned the custom hospital gown. She dove again into her night bag, pulled out slippers, and hid them behind her back.
“I almost forgot. What outfit would be complete without...” She whipped her hands in front of her and snapped her wrist up and down, sending the large ears bouncing. “Floppy bunny slippers.”
Niki’s eyes fluttered open, and a slow smile spread across her pale lips. “Cute.”
Skye slid her feet into the slippers, pushed the curtain back against the wall, and scuffed backward so Niki could see. She fluffed her hair and slid a hand down her side, preening first to the right then to the left. Then she turned her back and peeked at Niki over her shoulder.
“Well? Is this not the height in hospital wear? Patients will come from all the floors, just to beg you for the name of your designer.” She sighed dramatically and batted her eyelashes.
Niki’s giggle warmed Skye’s heart. Niki clicked picture after picture of Skye mugging for the camera. She held out her own small gown and struggled to sit up. “My turn.”
Skye had just finished tying the bow on Niki’s gown when the door opened. Head bent, Niki looped her oxygen tube around her ears, as Skye took in her sister’s bright eyes, red nose, and forced smile.
“What’d I miss?”
At Faith’s overly cheerful tone, Niki frowned and leaned to the side to see around Skye. “We just put on our nighties.”
Skye settled the DVD player on Niki’s lap and plugged in the machine. “Why don’t you get the movie ready and figure out how this thing works while I talk to your mom?”
Skye whirled Faith around and pushed her toward the door before Niki could get a good look at her mother’s stricken face.
“Don’t you want a robe?” Faith asked, looking at Skye’s bare arms and legs.
Standing in the hospital hallway looking ridiculous in her bunny ensemble was the least of Skye’s concerns. She pulled the door open, shoved Faith through, and then quietly closed it behind them. With arms crossed, she faced her sister. “What’s wrong?”
Faith looked at the ground and blew out a deep breath. “The bone marrow extraction’s off.”
“Off or postponed?”
Faith bit her lip and blinked away tears before looking at her. “The anesthesiologist refused to do it. Her heart’s too weak to withstand the general anesthetic. He’s afraid that even with light sedation, Niki might never wake up.”