Jane Harper


SYNOPSIS: Three women with a man in common learn to bridge what separates them. 

ARCHIVE: Sure. Just let me know where. HTML version available. 

DISCLAIMER: One of these characters is mine. The rest belong to the Evil Genius and his minions. I do this for fun, so please don't sue me.


It was a little before eight when Leo exploded into Mallory's hospital room and ran over to her bedside. "Somebody tell me what's happening," he demanded.

Jenny opened one eye, still half-asleep where Sarah had tucked her in earlier. "What's happening is that you're late, again."

"Don't start with me," he snapped, moving rapidly from frightened to furious.

Sam stood up slowly and began in a low voice. "Both of you - stop it! This is not about you, this is about Mal. She needs all of us together, not hissing at one another."

"You're right," Leo responded. "I'm sorry. Where's the doctor?"

Sarah rolled over toward where he was standing. "She's been by already this morning."

"She only comes in once a day?" He could feel his blood pressure rise.

Taking his hand, Sarah went on. "No, she'll come any time we need her, but she's already made her rounds this morning."

He looked over at Mallory, reaching out to stroke her cheek with the back of his hand. Voice breaking, he asked, "What's wrong with her?"

Sarah kept holding his free hand as she explained. "She has encephalitis; that's an infection of the brain. It's from a virus we think she may have picked up last weekend water-skiing. She's probably unconscious because the infection has made her brain swell a little bit, but as the infection goes away the swelling will go down. She's not showing any signs of any complications. We're treating her symptoms, her fever and dehydration, and otherwise all we can do is wait." She laid Leo's hand on the bedrail and pulled back.

He had heard the words but he didn't understand. Brain swelling? How could anybody survive brain swelling? All he knew was that his baby, his only living child, was terribly, terribly ill.

He looked over at where Jenny was sitting, as she rose to her feet and came over to stand beside him. He folded her in his arms and the two of them looked down at their daughter.

"Leo," she said, "I'm scared."

"Me too," he answered, kissing her on the forehead. He heard the door close behind him as he and Jenny held one another.

* * * * *

Mallory could hear someone crying. Daddy? Couldn't be her Daddy, she'd never seen him cry. Well, maybe once, when he had to tell Mom about needing to go back to rehab. She had been in college then, and she had been so ashamed. But there was nothing for Dad to cry about now! She tried to open her eyes, tried to reach out to him, but couldn't get her body to move the way she wanted it to. Just noise. Doors closing, something beeping, voices in the distance.

Sam? She heard Sam's voice, far away, growing farther. Don't go, she wanted to cry out, and couldn't. Mama, did you send him away? She knew her mother didn't much like her dating Sam; it had something to do with a fund-raiser and mistaken identity.

She heard her mother talking, clearer now.

"Leo, what happened to us?"

"I had to make a choice, Jenny. You asked me to make a choice, and there was nothing else I could do."

"Nothing else?"

"No, not for right now. I'll never get the chance to make this much of a difference, ever again. I'll never get the chance to give this much back."

Silence, and breathing.

"Are you happy?" she heard Jenny ask.

"Mostly. You met Sarah."

"She's quite a woman, Leo. She said if I wanted you back I'd have a fight on my hands."

"I wouldn't be surprised, she's a scrapper." She heard a smile in her father's voice, then another pause. "Do you?"

"Do I what?"

"Want me back."

"Not like this. I can't live like that, like we were. It was as if you were having an affair, but I couldn't scratch her eyes out because 'she' was the President of the United States."

"Now wait a minute-"

"You know what I meant."

"Yeah. That's not likely to change, Jenny. I'm in this for the long haul, two more years, hopefully six."


"I don't know."

Another silence, then her mother's voice. "Do you love her?"

Mallory finally got her hand to move.

* * * * *

Sarah and Sam had slipped out of Mallory's hospital room to leave the family alone. She didn't know how she felt about seeing Leo and Jenny together like that, although she knew she should understand. Not being a parent, she had no idea how they were feeling.

"Sarah, I'm not taking no for an answer," Sam said. "You've been up all night. You're going to have some breakfast then I'm taking you home. There's nothing else you can do today."

Halfway through her scrambled eggs, she realized she was really tired. Bone, dog-tired, and she would be glad to go to sleep, except that she couldn't get that image out of her head.

Sam was pushing his breakfast around his plate, absentmindedly staring off into space.

"Penny for your thoughts," she said.

"Sarah, I-" he swallowed, hard, then stood up. "C'mon, we need to get you home."

She rode quietly back to her apartment with him, and invited him in for some coffee.

"You don't need coffee, Sarah," he said as he hung his overcoat on the coat tree. "You need sleep."

"Wild horses couldn't keep me awake, Sam. You, however, look like you could use some java." She wheeled into her kitchen and put the coffeemaker on, then came back into the living room and transferred herself over next to Sam on the sofa.

"Now," she continued, taking his hand, "you were about to tell me something before we left the hospital. What's up, my friend?"

He took a deep breath and began. "Sarah, I don't know where this thing is going with Mal and me."

"You don't know where it's going?" she echoed.

"We're stuck in neutral. I really care about her, but she seems... ambivalent. One minute she's passionate and caring, the next distant and standoffish." He sighed. "Not to mention that her mother hates me."

Sarah couldn't keep from giggling. "That's OK, her mother hates me too."

"I thought the two of you-"

"You gotta be kidding. At best it's an armed truce. I'd be willing to bet that right now she's whispering in Leo's ear about how once he's left the White House behind, everything could go back to being like it was."

"Whatever makes you think that?" Sam took off his glasses to clean them on his sweater.

"Because she's still ape-shit over him. But right now we're talking about you and Mal." She started to move back over into her chair so she could go pour the coffee.

"You stay down," Sam said. "I'll get the joe."

"You know, Sam, I understand why Mallory is so ambivalent: her grandfather was an alcoholic and a suicide, her father is an alcoholic and an addict and was emotionally unavailable for most of her youth, and her late husband died on her. But I'm not sure knowing that would make you feel any better."

He walked back over to the sofa and sat down next to Sarah, then sat and stared into his coffee cup. "I just don't know how much more I can handle. First Josh, now Mal - " He turned to look at her with glistening eyes.

She slid over until their hips were touching, then she leaned in and slipped her arms around his waist. "She'll be fine, Sam. I know it in my bones. I've seen a lot of people with all kinds of neurological problems, and I'd bet you next week's pay that she'll wake up today or tomorrow.'

He leaned over and put his arm around Sarah's shoulder. "I'm gonna believe you, Mom, because mothers know best... and because if I thought differently I'd go throw myself on the third rail."

They both laughed. Sam had started calling Sarah "Mom" a few months back, as a joke because she would nudge him about taking better care of himself. The gag was fortified by her involvement with Leo and his with Mal, but as she sat there curled up with him, her face on his shoulder, surrounded by his warmth and his scent, she started having feelings that were decidedly _not_ maternal. Just as she was deciding she'd better pull away, his cellphone rang.

*Saved by the bell,* she thought. *What the hell was I thinking?*




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