Noel raced through the night, his old guilt riding with him, an accusing passenger. Guilt that his reason told him was unfounded. But when his daughter was involved he seemed to abandon all reason.
Judy was already in the operating room when he arrived. He found Barbara in the waiting room with Kevin, who looked like a younger Noel, and Scott, who resembled his mother. She came to meet him, her fair hair unruffled, with that sleek look which women born to wealth often have, and they held each other without words. There was no passion in their embrace, nor any bitterness between them, only shared concern for their daughter and for each other.
"The tests didn't show anything critical," she said in answer to his unspoken question. "The doctor thinks it's appendicitis. He'll talk to us as soon as the operation is over."
"How soon will that be, do you suppose?"
"I have no idea. Come have some coffee and try to rest. You look beat."
Noel greeted his sons as she got the coffee. There were strong bonds between him and all his children. He sat down with his coffee, but didn't drink it.
Time passed slowly. Conversation lagged. Finally the doctor appeared and told them that Judy had come through the operation in fine shape, it was appendicitis, there were no complications, she should be up and around in a few days. She was now in the recovery room. Why didn't they all go home and get some rest?
Barbara told her sons to go home, she would stay. Why didn't Noel go home also?
"I'd rather stay," he told her. He sank down again into his chair, physically and emotionally spent. The quarrel with Farah had unsettled him. But he didn't want to think about it now. Right now his primary concern was for Judy. Perhaps it always had been; Farah seemed to think so.
He was caught in a trap. He was lost on a lonely road, trying to find his way home, amid endless crossroads where he had to decide which way to turn. He got deeper and deeper into a forest. The road narrowed to a path, he was afoot now, stumbling in his weariness, and here was another crossroads. The road to the right had a sign reading "Danger, Quicksand." The road to the left had a sign that read, "Danger Mined Area." He would have to retrace his steps. But when he turned the path had disappeared, theforest had closed in on him, he could find no way out. He fell to his knees, weeping in despair. Something touched his shoulder; he cried out and shot bolt upright.
Barbara was bending over him. "You were moaning in your sleep," she said.
"I had a bad dream."
"You've been working too hard. Why don't you go home? I'll stay with Judy."
She turned as a nurse came toward them. The patient had been returned to her room now and they could see her for five minutes.
They found Judy groggy but conscious. She spoke to them drowsily, then drifted back into slumber. She would be kept under sedation, and there was no use staying any longer, so they walked together to their cars.
"I'll try to be here when she wakes up," Barbara said. "I'll probably stay all day."
"I'll come in the morning as soon as I can get away." Noel looked at Barbara in the dim light of the parking lot and thought, why don't I just go home with her and try to patch up our marriage? There would be no love in it, but life would be simpler. Love complicates things so.
They stood looking at each other uncertainly, two decent people in need of comfort, their memories stirred by danger to their daughter. Finally, Noel said, "It wouldn't be any good, Barbara."
"I know," she said with a sad smile.
"Are you happy, Barbara? Are you seeing anyone?"
She shook her head. "I'm not ready yet. It's too soon," she said. "This woman you're seeing. Do you love her?"
"Then marry her, Noel. You're a family man, you need a home. Judy will accept it in time."
Noel looked after her in astonishment as she drove away. Why, she was telling him that he needn't be bound by his promise to his daughter.
Judy had won again, thought Farah as she watched Noel go through the door. Maybe this time for good. Noel had been so angry. Well, I was angry, too, she thought; and we were so near to a showdown. Left to ourselves we could have worked it out.
Immediately she felt remorse, and thought how spiteful of me, how selfish. I should be worrying about that poor kid. Noel didn't even tell me which hospital, and I won't rest until I know she's okay. She opened the door to call him, but he was already out of sight.
She moved restlessly around the room, wishing she knew what had happened to Judy. What if Noel doesn't call? she thought. This will be something else to add to his burden of guilt about his daughter. He may feel driven to make a choice. And right now Judy holds all the aces. If she should die he might never forgive himself. Or me. But she refused to think about that possibility. She would try to find out what hospital Judy was in and call there. Who could give her that information? Why, of course, Noel's answering sevice might know.
A pleasant voice answered her ring. "I understand Mr. McKay's daughter has been taken to a hospital," Farah said. "Can you tell me which hospital she's in?"
"Just a moment," the voice answered. "Yes, here it is." She told Farah what she wanted to know.
The hospital verified that a Judy McKay had been admitted but they had no further information. "Can you give me the name of her doctor?" Farah asked.
"That would be Dr. Whittaker."
Farah thanked her and hung up. If she didn't hear from Noel within a reasonable length of time she would call the doctor. The hours went by and Noel didn't call. Finally, she contacted the doctor and was told that Judy had been operated on for appendicitis and was recovering satisfactorily.
Farah breathed a sigh of relief on Judy's account, but her anger at Noel returned. How cruel of him not to let her know. It wasn't like him. But then, she thought, do I really know what he's like? In the office he was always so crisp and decisive, so good at handling people and situations. But when dealing with his family he's a different person.
Perhaps he doesn't know how to deal with women on an emotional basis, she thought. That would explain why Judy can manipulate him. Or he could be having a middle-aged crisis and is trying to recapture his youth through me. Maybe he doesn't love me at all. Well, dammit, maybe he'd just better go back to Judy and quit messing up my life.
Of course she didn't mean that. What life did she have without Noel? He was a good man, and his loyalty to Judy was to be admired. Besides, it wasn't his loyalty she resented. It wasn't even Judy. It was his not wanting to be seen with her in public. But of course they were one and the same thing.
Around three she decided Noel wouldn't call, so she took a warm bath to calm her nerves and went to bed. Almost at once she fell into a deep but troubled sleep.
It was noon before Noel got back to the hospital. He found Barbara beside a sleeping Judy. "If you haven't had lunch," he told her, "why don't you go while I'm here? Better still, why don't you go home? Judy'll be okay."
"I'll have lunch, but I'll be back," she said.
After she had gone, Noel sat looking at the crescents of dark lashes that lay on his daughter's cheeks. Her pale skin, even with smudges under her eyes, still managed to glow with youth and health.
How vulnerable, these young girls. Why have I been able to recognize Judy's vulnerability and not Farah's, who is scarcely any older? he thought. Why have I been so insennsitive to Farah's need for security? She's been through so much. The fact is, she's so composed and wise beyond her years that I've been blinded to her needs. "I like older men," she had told him; and because he was older she had turned to him, and he had let her down. Maybe he had lost her. He had been sure she loved him, as he loved her. But love has to be nurtured ar it dies.
After his outrageous performance last night, he had walked away without a backward glance. She must have been frantic for news, but he hadn't called her. He hoped he hadn't waited too long.
Judy still slept. Noel went looking for a phone booth and dialed Farah's number. If he couldn't find her at home, maybe he could reach her at the office.
Farah was cleaning kitchen cabinets when the phone rang. When something bothered her she went into a fever of activity. She got down off her stool to answer.
"Please don't hang up on me," Noel said. "I want you to know how sorry I am."
"You might have let me know about Judy. I've been worried sick."
"She's okay. She's out of danger now."
"I'll try to make it up to you, Farah," Noel said. "I know I acted like a fool."
"Make what up to me? That you're ashamed to be seen out with me?"
"That's not true. You know that's not true. Look, can I come out?"
"I'm at the hospital. I'll be over soon. We've got to talk."
"I couldn't agree more."
"Then it's okay?"
"I'll be here."
Farah hung up and attacked the cabinets with renewed vigor. "If he thinks he can come over here and sweet talk me....," she said aloud, her anger unabated.
He came in looking haggard, and it seemed to Farah he had aged. She resisted an impulse to run to him and comfort him. All this had to be settled first.
Noel sat down at the table in the breakfast nook and ran his hands over his face. Then he dropped his elbows to his knees and supported his head with his hands, his eyes on the floor. Finally, he said, "I'm not going to try to excuse myself. But we never spoke of it and I wasn't sure how you felt. About going out together, I mean. You had your reputation to consider. I never stopped to analyze my reasons. Maybe I didn't want to know."
"That you were afraid it would get back to Judy?"
"Yes. I've been letting her run my life for a long time."
"I've noticed that," Farah couldn't resist saying. She sat down opposite him at the table.
"Not any more, she won't. She's got to understand I have my own life to lead. She's got to get busy living her own life."
"You can't tell her now. Wait till she's well again."
"I know. But as soon as she's feeling better.... Just as soon as I get back from my trip...." He lifted his head and looked at her. "Of course none of this is any use unless you forgive me."
Her anger drained out of her. She dropped to her knees before him and crept into his arms. "If you can forgive me," she said. "I've been pretty bitchy."
"Oh, my darling," he cried. They clung together like two people who have been separated by a great catastrophe and are surprised to find each other still alive.
After a moment Farah broke away. She could sense Noel's tiredness as he held her. "We'd better get some food into you," she said. "Have you eaten anything since lunch yesterday?"
He shook his head. "I couldn't eat."
"Why don't you lie down while I fix you something?"
"Okay, but don't let me go to sleep. I have to get back to the office."
"The work is piling up; it has to be done before I leave."
When the food was ready she had to wake him. They were both hungry and ate almost in silence until they had emptied their plates. Soon after, Noel said he had to go. As he kissed her goodbye, he said, "Things are going to be different from now on. You'll see."
Farah stood at the door and watched him leave. Funny, she thought. All the story books tell you that after the first quarrel making up is always followed by an interlude of making love. The story books must be wrong. There had been no passion in their kisses.