For All She Knows (Potomac Point #3) - Jamie Beck



Sunday, January 10, 2021, 12:15 a.m.

Shock Trauma Center ER near Baltimore

Everyone warned me that the day would come when I’d regret befriending Mimi Gillette. But despite our many differences, Mimi and I had clicked from the moment we first met in our sons’ toddler playgroup years ago, when her earnestness cracked me open like an egg. After fifteen minutes of chitchat, she’d grabbed my hand to say, “I hope we can be good friends,” and I’d known she’d meant it. Sure, she could be flamboyant, and our differing parenting styles had made for some interesting conversations, but she was all heart—even after her ex-husband ground it beneath his bootheel and left her to raise their son alone. And so I’d tuned out public opinion all these years.

Curling forward, I hugged my calves and buried my face in my lap, each breath burning my lungs. The not-quite-sweet chemical odor of hospital disinfectant wasn’t helping. With my eyes closed, the recent scene in Mimi’s basement flickered like a horror film. The memory of my son’s terrified tears as he lay prone and immobile on the tile floor sent a shiver down my back; I swallowed another bitter surge of bile.

“Excuse me.” I grasped for the young nurse passing by the area where they’d left us after wheeling Carter off for tests. “My son, Carter Phillips, was taken for MRIs and other tests a while ago, but we haven’t had any updates.”

“Let me check for you.” Despite being harried, he flashed a sympathetic smile before continuing his journey, his focus again glued to the iPad in his hand.

“Thank you,” I called after him.

The clock read twelve fifteen. Every minute seemed an eternity.

Across the room, our daughter, Kim, lay sleeping in her pink-and-black leopard-print pj’s and slippers, her lanky ten-year-old body strewn across my husband’s lap. When we’d gotten Mimi’s phone call, I’d charged across town to her house to catch the EMTs—still in my UGG slippers and yoga pants—while Sam had stayed behind, waiting for the girls at Kim’s sleepover to be picked up by shocked parents. Now he was stroking her hair, staring into space, probably praying like me.

In between prayers, prior dreadful moments—like the blue lights flashing through my mom’s living room window years ago when the cops came to tell us that my older sister, Margot, had died—revisited me. My mother’s pitiful howl that evening struck a new chord now. My gaze drifted back to Sam.

Our eyes met, but I glanced away.

“Grace.” Sam’s deep voice quavered.

“Please, not now.” Nothing he could say would settle the chaos in my brain. Sweat seeped from every pore. I crossed my arms and closed my eyes, wishing that when I opened them again, this would be nothing more than a terrible nightmare. That I could go back to yesterday morning—or even before the damn budget debate—and make different choices.

“Babe,” Sam whispered loudly enough for me to hear, “I can see you spiraling. Try not to jump to the worst-case scenario. We could still get good news.”

His soothing manner and optimism had always been appealing, but neither strategy worked for me tonight. I tugged hard at the roots of my hair, but no self-inflicted pain would reverse time. I didn’t deserve peace of mind. Not when everything I’d done to protect my children had been undone by a single bad decision.

Each cough, creaky chair, and turn of a page in the waiting room reverberated in my head. The alcohol odor of the hand sanitizer I’d applied reminded me of the spilled drinks all over Mimi’s home, making me nauseated and twitchy. I sprang from my chair and paced, envisioning my sweet boy in a wheelchair. What would that be like? How would we manage rehab and school, or make the house accessible?

I covered my mouth with both hands to hold in a scream about why this was happening to my baby.

My phone vibrated in my pocket. Mimi again. I couldn’t listen to her apologies and concern now. All I wanted at this moment was for somebody to tell us that our son would recover and walk.

I collapsed back onto my seat.

Sam slid out from beneath Kim and stretched. “I’m going for coffee. Do you want one?”

“No thank you.” Without meeting his gaze, I crossed the room to sit with Kim while he searched for caffeine. Was it only a week ago we’d been excitedly planning an August family biking tour of the Canadian Rockies?

I shook my head again, hoping to clear it, but the faint buzz