Promises of Mercy

By: Vella Day

Her eyes widened. “He told you that? That he was scared?”

“Yes, but Chris seems like the type who can overcome this.”

She sucked in her bottom lip. “You don’t know how happy I am to hear that. I need him to recognize what he’s going through. He’s been angry.”

“I would be, too.” He didn’t want to deceive her. “I’ve seen patients go from angered to determined to depressed all in a span of minutes.”

“So have I.” Her stomach grumbled.

Given her red eyes, either she’d been crying, hadn’t slept much, or both. Most likely she’d foregone food, also. “When was the last time you ate?”

She glanced at the ceiling and slowly shook her head. Amber wouldn’t do Chris any good if she didn’t keep up her strength. He placed a hand on her back. “Come on. Let’s grab a bite. I need to eat.” She hesitated and he cursed himself. She might think he was trying to pick her up. “I thought we could talk about Chris.”

Her shoulders dropped a bit. “I’d like that. The doctor really didn’t say much other than it will take time.”

“That’s true.”

They took the elevator to the second floor and walked down a hallway plastered with photos of the hospital Board. The last door on the right led to the cafeteria. As if she was on a mission, Amber headed straight to the food line. The place was crowded and loud. Stone didn’t know why the ordered chaos bothered him now. Maybe it was because he felt sorry for her and thought she’d appreciate the quiet.

Though her voice had remained calm when they’d been in Chris’s room, he could tell from the way she’d crossed her arms over her chest like she was afraid she’d fall apart, that she was barely holding it together.

In relative silence, they pushed their trays through the line. While he piled the food on his plate, Amber picked up two small salads, one of which was a small bowl of cut fruit.

“These coming months will require a lot of your energy. You need to eat.” He tried to keep his voice as soothing as possible.

“I know.” She grabbed another bowl, this one containing green beans.

When they reached the cashier, she pulled her wallet out, but blocked her efforts to pay. “I’ll get this.” Amber would need to purchase a special bed for Chris, medications, and a host of other items.

“That’s very kind, but no thank you.”

He shrugged, not wanting to push her too hard and add to her stress. Amber seemed the type of woman who was cautious around men. He had no solid basis for his assumption, other than how she avoided his direct eye contact and was constantly fiddling with her uniform as if she believed he was judging her. Because he’d wanted to understand who he’d be dealing with, Stone had asked a friend of hers if she was dating anyone or had family nearby for a support system. The nurse said she didn’t.

They found a table toward the back of the cafeteria where the noise wasn’t as loud. As soon as they sat, Amber picked up her fork then set it down. Her stomach was probably churning, and he really wanted to put her at ease.

“Tell me about Chris.”

She looked at him, but it was almost as if she didn’t see him. “What do you mean? He’s paralyzed.”

That was not what he’d meant. “Tell me what he was like, what he did for a living, what he enjoyed doing for fun. Stuff like that.”

She sighed and the tiniest smile crossed her lips. “Chris is a dreamer. He hated school probably because our older brother was a superstar. Not that Thomas was around much since he was fifteen years older than Chris, but Mom bragged about him all the time.” She looked down at her food and stabbed a piece of fruit. “In her eyes, Thomas could do no wrong. My mom is a cardiac surgeon and pushed her first offspring to be a doctor. When I came along, I wanted to be a doctor, too, but it wasn’t to be.”

Now he felt like a shit for asking. Dredging up bad memories hadn’t been his goal. “So was Chris more into athletics? Or was he an expert at video games?” He figured that covered the gamut of what kids did who didn’t like school.

“He was a daredevil. A real adrenaline junkie.” Her lips quivered, and he had to urge to clasp her hand to give her comfort—but he didn’t.