“What am I going to do?” he whispered aloud, leaning his forehead against the cool glass of the window.
An instant later, his thoughts were disturbed by a scream. He whirled around and raced back to the room. When he entered it, his eyes were greeted by the sight of his niece cowering in her chair, her knees drawn up to her chin and her arms covering her head.
Jeannie was still lying in her bed, her eyes closed, the heart-rate and blood-pressure indicators blipping and blinking like normal. He moved towards Heather.
“No! Don’t come near me!” she squealed, and he stopped in his tracks.
“Heather! It’s me!” he called to her. She peered between her fingers, and, when her eyes focused on him, she sprang to her feet and ran to her uncle. He put his arms around her protectively as she sobbed into his shoulder.
There was the sound of several feet coming to the doorway. Both the nurse and the policeman stood there gaping. After a moment, Heather pulled back.
“He was here!” she gasped.
“Who was?” Kevin asked.
“Gage! Gage was here!” Terror filled her eyes as tears glistened on her cheeks. Kevin cast a glance over his shoulder at the other two who reflected only puzzled stares.
A loud beeping flared up in the room next door. The nurse gave them one last worried glance and disappeared to the next room while the policeman came further into Jeanetta’s room.
“There wasn’t anyone in the hall,” he said. “Where did he go?”
“I don’t know. He came in . . . when Mom was sleeping. He was wearing a doctor’s coat and carried a clipboard. He was here a few minutes. I thought he was going to hurt Mom, and I screamed. Then he came towards me, and I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, he was gone, and Uncle Kevin was here.”
The policeman looked at her as if he thought that she had lost her mind. “Well, I’ll go and check out the hall, both ends of it, to see if I can find anyone who saw him.” He left, the sound of his firm footsteps receding quickly.
Jeannie stirred in her bed, her eyes fluttering open. “Is something wrong?” she asked groggily, her head turned towards them, but her eyes not focused on them yet.
Kevin pulled Heather with him towards the door.
“Everything’s all right, Jeannie,” he said. Jeannie smiled and was asleep again.
Kevin took Heather into the hall and stopped.
“What did he do, Heather?” asked Kevin. He saw clearly in his mind again the image of the doctor that he had seen a few moments ago when he had been on the phone. “What did he say?”
“He came into the room and . . . smiled at me. He said he was glad to see me and asked if we had gotten his flowers. He said that it was a shame that my parents had gotten hurt and that he hoped nothing bad would happen to them.” She stopped and took a few deep breaths.
“He asked me if I wanted them to stay safe. I asked him what he meant. He told me that he could make sure that they were safe, but. . . .” She stopped, her voice caught as if she could not force herself to speak.
“But what?” Kevin asked.
“He said that he could keep Mom and Dad safe, but I . . . I’d have to go with him.” Her words came slowly as she struggled to control herself.
“I told him that I’d never go with him. He said . . . he said it was my life for theirs.” She was losing control now, her voice rising sharply in pitch, a shrill whisper that sounded harsh in the empty hallway.
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