Home > A Curve in the Road(9)

A Curve in the Road(9)
Author: Julianne MacLean

I imagine my loyal dog, alone in the darkness and freezing rain, wanting only to protect me and thinking he’d failed.

“Where is he now?” I ask desperately. “Is he with you? Is he okay?”

The elevator bell dings, and the doors slide open. The porter pushes my chair forward, and my mother and Carrie both get on the elevator with us.

“He’s in the truck with me,” Troy replies. “I have his head on my lap. His eyes are open, but he’s cold, and he’s weak.”

“Put the phone next to his ear.” I want Winston to hear my voice. I wait a few seconds, and then I speak to him in a soothing, melodic tone. “Hey, Winston. What a good boy you are. They’re going to take good care of you, and I’ll come for you soon. I love you. Stay strong, okay?”

My voice breaks on the last words, and Troy takes the phone back.

“I just called one of the vets in town,” he says. “He has a clinic in his house, so he’s going to open up for us.”

“Which clinic?” I ask.

“It’s called Oceanview Animal Hospital. The vet’s name is Dr. Nathan Payne.”

“Okay.”

“Don’t worry—he’s good. And I’m off duty now, so I can stay at the clinic until I know more. I’ll keep you posted. Just keep your phone on, and tell Carrie to text me your number.”

My heart aches, and I’m filled with regret for leaving Winston behind. I wish things were different and that I could be with him now.

“I’ll call you as soon as I know anything,” Troy says, “and I promise I won’t leave his side. Not for a second.”

“Thank you so much, Troy.” My eyes fill with tears again, because I’m grateful for Troy’s help—and for everyone else who has come to my rescue in so many ways tonight. The police officers . . . the firefighters and paramedics . . . and the medical team that worked so hard to try and save Alan. I feel as if this town is full of heroes.

The elevator doors slide open, and the porter pushes my chair onto the floor.

Then I think of Zack.

My son just lost his father. He can’t lose his dog too—a dog that’s more than just a pet to him. Alan brought Winston home for Zack one day as a surprise when Zack was being bullied in the sixth grade. Winston was only a puppy then—nine weeks old—and he became Zack’s best friend, and mine too, in so many ways.

Winston has to survive. Not just for me but also for Zack.

I end the call and hand the phone to Carrie, who texts my number to Troy.

“Shouldn’t you be off duty by now?” I ask Carrie, who is helping the porter get me settled. “I’ve been seen by the doctor, and I’m admitted. I’m pretty sure that means your work is done.”

“Yes, but I’m waiting for Troy anyway,” she replies. “He’s supposed to give me a ride back to our place.”

“Your place.” I give her a questioning look. “Are you and Troy together or something?”

She holds her hand out to show me an engagement ring. “Yes. We’re getting married next July.”

I’m happy for her. Truly I am, but her love story makes me think of Alan and the day he proposed. He took me to Cape Split, where we hiked up the mountain and picnicked on a grassy meadow overlooking the beautiful Bay of Fundy. It was a clear day, and we could see for miles across the blue, while the hiss and roar of the powerful tidal currents below us made it feel dangerous and exciting.

“You’re my best friend,” he said, “and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to have children with you and grow old together and never be apart. You’re the love of my life, Abbie. Will you marry me?”

My grief returns with a vengeance, and I wonder if I’ll ever feel happiness again. Tonight, it seems impossible. It feels like this dark cloud of loss will hang over my head forever.

“Congratulations,” I say to Carrie, fingering my own wedding and engagement rings.

“Thanks.” She covers me with the blue sheet, and I can tell by her modest reply that she understands my pain and feels guilty for showing off her bling.

“I’m happy for you,” I manage to say. “He seems like an amazing guy. Very caring.”

There are two beds in the room, and my mother sets her purse down on the other one.

“I’ll get some sheets for that,” Carrie says. “And I’ll make sure they bring two breakfast trays in the morning. You’ve both been through so much.”

Again, I’m moved to tears by yet another act of kindness.

My phone rings, and I scramble to pick it up. When I see that it’s Troy, my heart races.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Abbie?” He sounds out of breath.

“Yes, it’s me. Is everything okay?”

“Yes. I just want to let you know that I’m at the vet clinic now, and Dr. Payne just took Winston into the examination room.”

“That’s great. But why are you so out of breath?”

He takes a minute to answer. “The truck couldn’t make it up the hill. It was too icy. We kept sliding back down, so I had to get out and walk.”

“You walked? What about Winston? Tell me you didn’t have to carry him up that icy hill.”

“I did.”

I struggle to comprehend this. “But he weighs over sixty pounds! I can’t believe you did that. I can’t thank you enough, Troy. You’ve earned a spot in heaven tonight.”

He chuckles as if it were nothing, but it’s not nothing. Not to me. It’s everything.

“Will you ask Dr. Payne to call me when he knows something?”

“Of course.”

We end the conversation, and I decide to call Zack right away. He’s lost so much tonight that he deserves to have some hope to hold on to.

After that, I will finally contact Alan’s father, Lester, on the West Coast.

Only then do I realize how much I’ve been dreading that phone call. It means that an already excruciating day is about to get worse.

CHAPTER TEN

As I pick up my phone to call Lester and deliver the news of his son’s death, I find myself thinking about how he handled a similar situation many years ago, when Alan’s mother passed away.

Alan and his brother, Bruce, were both at school when it happened, and for some reason I’ll never understand, Lester didn’t pull them out of class. He simply left them to finish out the day while their mother was removed from her private room in the hospital and taken to the morgue.

Hours later, Alan and Bruce rode the bus home from school and played street hockey with some of the neighborhood kids until the sun went down. Then they cooked Kraft Dinner for themselves because Lester didn’t come home for supper. According to Alan, this wasn’t unusual. Whenever their mother was in the hospital for treatments, they looked after themselves and didn’t bother to ask their dad when he was coming home. He worked odd hours, and there were no expectations that he would be there for them as a father.

That night, Lester came home very late, completely bombed, and Alan never forgot that pivotal moment in his life. His father burst into his room without knocking, thrusting the door open with such force that a picture fell off the wall. Alan, who had just fallen asleep, nearly jumped out of his skin.

“Your mother’s gone,” Lester said. “She died early this morning. Funeral’s on Friday. She’s gettin’ cremated. Tell your brother.”

Lester left the room, shut Alan’s door, and that was that. Alan was never given the opportunity to say goodbye to his mother, and from that day forward, he and Bruce weren’t permitted to talk about her or feel sorry for themselves. Neither of them dared to cry in front of Lester for fear of getting smacked or ridiculed. There was no love left in their house after she was gone, and Alan said that every day felt like a black hole. At least until he met me.

And now I have to call this heartless man to tell him that his son has died. I hope that he responds differently this time.

With a deep breath to prepare myself, I dial Lester’s number and wait for him to answer. His voice is deep and gruff when he picks up the phone. “Hello?”

“Hi, Lester. It’s Abbie.”

“Abbie?” he barks. “Alan’s wife?”

I’m not surprised that he doesn’t recognize my voice. We haven’t spoken in years. “Yes, it’s me. I’m afraid I have some bad news. Is anyone with you?”

“No, I’m here on my own,” he replies. “Verna’s gone to the store. But whatever it is, just spit it out.”

My heart pounds heavily, and I draw in a deep breath. “Okay. Well . . . Alan was in a car accident tonight, and . . .” I pause and clear my throat. “I’m very sorry to tell you this, but it was serious, and he . . . he didn’t survive.”

Lester says nothing for a moment. All I can hear is the thunderous pounding of my heart in my ears. “Are you still there?” I ask him.

“Yeah, I’m here.”

The conversation grinds to a painful halt, and I close my eyes. “Are you all right?”

“Of course I’m all right,” he replies testily. “I’m not the one who died in a car accident. So what happened?”

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