Second Chances [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Nina M. Osier
eBook Category: Mainstream
eBook Description: In 1967 a widowed preacher does his best to bring up his two teen-agers in an idyllic community on the coast of Maine. The book explores a family's religious convictions and its struggle with fear, guilt, and the inevitable secrets that result An engrossing, enjoyable reading experience by a fine author.
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net, Published: 1999
Fictionwise Release Date: September 2005
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2 Reader Ratings:
"Get ready to experience shocking moments that will make you laugh, cry, and even gasp in awe."--Cynthia Godin, The Book Review Cafe
Medical smells. Antiseptics, body fluids, fear. Jan Franklin hated them, and she had her reasons. She had spent too many years out of her life surrounded by those odors, so it was always an effort to make herself enter a hospital when her profession required that of her.
It was even harder than usual tonight, but she did it. She walked up to the reception desk at Memorial Medical Center, and she asked in her usual controlled way: "Room number for Kevin Franklin, please?" And then she went up the stairs, not bothering to wait for the elevator, and walked down the wide corridor to his room.
MMC had been "Memorial Hospital," not "Memorial Medical Center," forty years ago when Jan and Kevin sat clinging to each other's hands in its waiting room because children were not allowed anywhere else unless they were patients. They had stayed there, a little boy of four and a little girl of six, until their father came to tell them that Mama had gone to heaven to be with Jesus.
"But Jesus doesn't need Mama! And I do!" Kevin had screamed, and Daddy had smacked his bottom.
Jan had stood still, and had clenched her small fists to keep herself from hitting Daddy in retaliation. Both because she was convinced, in some part of her mind, that her all-powerful father could have interceded with his God and have kept Mama here on Earth if he'd really wanted to do so-and because she hated it when Daddy smacked Kevin.
He'd never done that to her, but only because he believed that grown men should not touch little girls there. Spanking Jan had been Mama's job, and Mama hadn't done it half as often as Daddy had thought it was needed.
Far, far less often than Daddy hit Kevin, that was for sure.
The memory was cold and bitter, like a taste of metal in her mouth now, as Jan walked into the private room and stood beside her baby brother's bed. He had an IV in his arm, but otherwise he was free from medical encumbrances. He looked pale, and skinny, and a lot younger than his forty-three years.
And the place where his left leg should have been, looked so empty that only her long experience as a reporter made it possible for Jan to stare at that spot for a moment before she let herself look away.
"Ms. Franklin? I'm Dr. Barter." The physician was young, and female, and pretty. And unfamiliar, which meant she must be new on staff. "You'd be Mr. Franklin's sister."
"Yes." Jan put out a hand, automatically, in greeting. "How's he doing?"
"Physically? He's listed in good condition. I'm sorry, but you aren't listed as his next of kin. So that makes discussing his treatment with you just a little bit awkward for me, I'm sure you'll understand...?"
Jan felt equal parts of relief and fury welling up inside her. Between them the two strong emotions almost closed her throat. But she managed to nod, and she managed to say in her professional tone because it was the one that came out unbidden, "I see. Tom Croft's probably on his record as 'person to be notified.' Isn't he?"
Dr. Barter looked at the older woman with curiosity in her eyes. And, perhaps, with some disapproval as well. She answered quietly, "Yes. So if you want specifics about your brother, you'll have to talk to Mr. Croft. I'm sorry."
"It's all right." Jan sighed. "Any reason I can't sit with Kevin for a few minutes? Now that I'm here?"
At least she should be able to do that. It had taken such an effort of will to come here at all, that she wasn't about to just turn around and walk out. And besides, getting information that someone else really didn't want her to have was a familiar part of her job-so she had confidence that if she stayed around for awhile, she could find out a lot more than this young physician would ever realize.
"Help yourself," Barter decided, after looking at Jan for a moment longer. "I really am sorry, Ms. Franklin. This situation is-well-unusual."
Nothing about the Franklin family has ever been usual!Jan wanted to reply. But she nodded instead, and she smiled.
Calmly, coolly, and professionally.
Kevin didn't move, except for the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. He was gaunt, and that didn't look good on him because he had a large frame. His cheeks were stubbled and sunken. But when Jan put her hand on his wrist, she found a strong and steady pulse under her fingers.
He had survived losing his leg, months earlier and two oceans away from Starks Harbor, Maine. Before that, he had survived more than two decades of a life spent in the world's various war zones. And before that, he had survived growing up in Daddy's house and attempting to become the kind of man that Daddy had wanted him to be.
Or at least, passively going along with Daddy's program; until the day had come when he couldn't do that anymore.
But just about everything Jan Franklin knew about her little brother's adult life, she knew from other people's accounts (or, to be more accurate, from Starks Harbor gossip!). The last time she had seen Kevin, or had spoken to him, she had been sixteen years old and her brother had been fourteen. Small for his age, not yet showing a hint that he would one day grow into the big man who was lying unconscious in front of her now; a quiet child, whose public outburst at their mother's death had astounded his more volatile big sister. And she hadn't even known, on that morning when Daddy had loaded her into the car and had driven her to Bangor, that she wouldn't see Starks Harbor again-or Kevin-or anyone or anything that was familiar from her childhood, for nearly thirty years.
He was going to make it, physically at least. Her own observations had confirmed what the doctor had told her, and sitting here any longer when her brother clearly wasn't going to wake up anytime soon would serve no purpose. She had a paper to operate, she had work to do. So Janice Franklin stood up, and bid Kevin farewell by lightly touching his cheek with her fingertips.
He was going to make it, this time. But she was having a lot of trouble believing that the "accident" in which he'd almost drowned in the waters off Croft and Son's Lobster Pound had been any such thing. She found herself wondering as she stood in his room's doorway and took one last look: Just what had happened to give him a final push from the depression that had kept him housebound ever since his homecoming, over the edge into suicidal despair? Had it been one of those old letters, made public at last and promising to bring more disgrace than Kevin's already-damaged spirit could endure?
In any event, for him to be lying there still breathing had cost another man his life. And in the parsonage where small Janice and Kevin had lived four decades ago, a woman was trying to figure out how she was supposed to bring a baby into the world without the man who'd fathered it at her side.
When Kevin woke up at last and found all that out, just how was he going to react?
Jan walked quickly down the corridor to the elevator, and leaned against its rear wall during the short ride from third floor to first. She closed her eyes, and she drew in a series of deep, careful, cleansing breaths.
Yes, that trick still worked. By the time the door started to open, she had her demons caged again.
And then she saw the man who was walking across the lobby toward the elevator, and she knew that her face was turning stark white with shock.
Which was swiftly followed by the crimson flush of fury. She'd known this moment must come, ever since Kevin and his long-time companion had come back to Starks Harbor to live in the house on the bluff overlooking the pound. If she had realized this would happen, when the Bayside Press had come up for sale and her friend Lucie Moore had offered Jan a partnership, she would never have considered coming back here herself. But it had seemed perfectly safe, at the time! Tom Croft and Kevin Franklin were somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, plying their despicable trade as trainers of third world countries' armies. They would go on doing that, more than likely, until one day their lives ended as such men's lives nearly always did. In blood and violence, in the flash of knives or the tearing impact of bullets; in just what they'd misspent their adult lives teaching other men how to do.
So Jan had come home, because she wanted to and because the opportunity was there. And now she was looking up into Tom Croft's face, because she hadn't paused at the elevator and waited for him to come to her.
She no longer lived her life that way. She had crossed the lobby to meet him, with a firm stride and with her head held high. And she spoke first, in the way she'd so carefully taught herself to do. "Tommy. It's been a long time."
Cliched words, and automatic use of the name by which she'd always called him. Not a good beginning, for all her take-the-high-ground approach.
His eyes widened with what looked for all the world like genuine, innocent pleasure. He was even taller than Kevin had become, and his appearance now more than fulfilled all the promises of his boyhood. He was broad of shoulder, slim of hip, and still deeply tanned from years of outdoor work in tropical climates. His dark hair was cut short, and there was a sprinkling of silver in it that had the perfectly damnable effect of making him look distinguished in the dress shirt and slacks that he'd worn to Augusta today.
If you'd been around home where you belonged, Kevin could never have taken that boat out,Janice thought with illogical but satisfying bitterness. You would have been at the wharf when he got there, and you'd have stopped him. And none of this would be happening now!
"Jan! God, I hoped you'd come!" He actually had the gall to reach for her, to put out his arms with the clear intention of pulling her into them.
She sidestepped. Quickly. And she knew that the two angry, crimson spots on her cheeks were turning into a full-body flush. She said in a calm, controlled, yet rudely clipped voice, "I came to see Kevin. I did that. And now I'm leaving. Good-bye, Tommy."
She hadn't been allowed to say that to him, all those years earlier. There was something elementally satisfying about being able to say it to him now, and about following the words by walking deliberately away and leaving him standing there alone and clearly bewildered.
Which might give him, perhaps, just the smallest taste of everything he had put her through-because it was thanks to Tom Croft that Janice Franklin knew just what it felt like to hit the wall that her little brother Kevin had slammed up against today. To become so overwhelmed and hopeless, so utterly lost in despair, that dying seemed like the only possible way out.