Back Where She Belongs - By Dawn Atkins


TARA WHARTON LIFTED her sister’s hand from the hospital-bed mattress and rested it on her own palm. Faye’s hand was pale and limp, the nails bluish, lined with dried blood and, worst of all, cool to the touch.

That alarmed Tara more than the tangle of IV tubes, the click and whir of the machines, or even Faye’s face, with its purple bruises and bloody stitches.

Faye’s hands were always warm—comforting as a hug to Tara as a child. Tara traced the beauty marks on the skin between Faye’s thumb and forefinger that formed the shape of the Big Dipper. When she was six, Tara had joined the dots with a felt pen while Faye napped before her prom. Her sister hadn’t noticed until the boy had handed Faye the wrist corsage. Faye had burst out laughing, which had thrilled Tara.

Once, when Tara had been unfairly sent to her room, Faye’s hands had taught Tara the game cat’s cradle. When Tara woke from nightmares, they’d traced words on her back until she drifted off against her sister’s sleep-soft body.

When Tara needed stitches after a skateboard fall, Faye’s hands had squeezed hers so tight Tara hadn’t even felt the needle.

Years later, when Tara cried over Dylan, Faye’s hands had dried her tears. Tara hated to cry. Crying was weak.

When Tara lowered Faye’s hand to the sheet, she saw her sister’s knuckles were wet. How...? She touched her own cheek and found that tears had escaped her eyes. Not good. Not with all she had to handle.

“You can’t die, Faye,” Tara said, her entire body tight with urgency. “The doctors have done all they can. Now it’s up to you.”

What a stupid thing to say: Now it’s up to you. As if Faye weren’t already trying with all her might to wake up. She’d had a second surgery to relieve the pressure on her brain from the accident.

Two measly brain surgeries wouldn’t keep Faye Wharton down. Faye was indomitable. Faye was amazing. For Tara, who’d rarely seen or spoken to her parents since she left for college ten years ago, Faye was family.

“Please wake up, Faye. Please.” The possibility that her sister might die poured through Tara like molten metal, dissolving her insides, making her want to collapse to the floor in wild despair. She didn’t dare. She had to stay strong and alert. She had to watch and listen and analyze.

Because something was not right. She’d known when her brother-in-law, Joseph, had called her. There’s been a car accident, he’d said in a near monotone. Your father was killed. Faye’s in the hospital. They don’t know if she’ll make it.

Every word had raised more hairs on Tara’s scalp. It wasn’t his tone. Joseph Banes was Chief Financial Officer at Wharton Electronics, third in command after Tara’s father and Faye. He preferred numbers to people, so he always sounded flat.

It wasn’t even that he’d waited nearly two days to reach her at the Fairmont in San Francisco, where she’d been meeting with her newest, most important client.

It was more subtle—a hesitation, a breath held a microsecond too long, a shade too much tension in his voice—and it made her instincts flare.

Her ability to read people had been the key to her success as a corporate consultant, and had given her the nerve to break out on her own eighteen months ago.

Tara rubbed her eyes. The tears hadn’t eased the gritty sensation. She was fuzzy with exhaustion after the 5:00-a.m. flight to Phoenix. She’d rented a car and driven to Tucson—the closest hospital to Wharton, Arizona, the town that had grown up around her family’s electronics company—arriving midmorning.

Why had Joseph waited to call? He’d explained that they’d been frantic. Joseph Banes did not get frantic. Neither did Tara’s mother, who prided herself on her calm dignity. She was what passed for royalty in Wharton, and took her role seriously.

Maybe he was being passive-aggressive. He had to know that Tara had tried to talk Faye out of marrying him three years ago, as it further shackled Faye to Wharton Electronics, ending forever her dream of studying art.

But why hadn’t her mother called? That hurt more than Tara wanted to admit. Despite the strain between them, wouldn’t her mother have reached out to her? If not for mutual comfort, at least because she knew how close Tara and Faye had been?

Where were Joseph and her mother? Tara had been here nearly two hours and neither one had appeared. Withhold judgment. Assume good intentions. Those were ground rules