Back Where She Belongs - By Dawn Atkins Page 0,1

when she facilitated meetings between hostile employee groups. The least she could do was practice what she preached with her own family. They were suffering, too.

Being in Wharton would not be easy, she knew. It would bring back all the hurt she’d felt, bring her face-to-face with family she’d disappointed and hurt in return. She’d have to face the mistakes she’d made, the regrets.

Already, the last conversation she’d had with Faye filled her with remorse. It had been three weeks ago. Faye had mentioned she might want to hire Tara to consult with Wharton Electronics. The words had been casual, but Tara had picked up tension in her voice.

Instead of leaving silence for Faye to fill with her deeper intentions, Tara had been glib, joking that she’d be too pricey for penny-pinching Joseph to sign off on.

What had Faye said exactly? We’re going through a transition. That was code for money troubles, Tara knew from experience with her corporate clients.

We fired the factory manager. I’m not sure that helped, but I’m too close to it. Your professional eye would help.

Tara would have been honored to work with Faye. Thrilled. Her father might have been an obstacle, but for Faye’s sake, Tara would have cleared the air, done what needed to be done for the job.

After that, Faye had said, I miss you. It’s been too long, which startled Tara, since Faye was as restrained as their parents.

Embarrassed by the rawness of her own feelings, Tara hadn’t said what she felt—I miss you, too. I need to visit. Instead, over the lump in her throat, she’d said, Get Joseph to write me a check and I’ll be there in a heartbeat.

I’ll see what I can do, Faye had said, but her laugh had been hollow, her tone wistful. Why hadn’t Tara really listened?

What if those were the last words Tara ever heard from her sister? Panic surged, but she fought it. She needed to stay calm and clearheaded. On top of that, she had the webinar tonight with the make-or-break client she’d had to abandon in San Francisco. The continued success of her new company depended on how she performed with Cameron Plastics. There had been opposition to hiring her—a general distrust of consultants—so her abrupt departure at the start of the meeting had put the job in jeopardy.

That had to wait. Faye was all that mattered right now.

She looked around. Faye’s area, separated from the rest of the busy ICU by a beige curtain, seemed so desolate, the only furnishings medical equipment. Tara had had to leave the flowers she’d brought—peonies, Faye’s favorite—at the nurses’ station. Too many bacteria for the fragile patients in intensive care. Rita, one of the nurses, had said she could bring a photo and tape it up for Faye to look at when she woke. If she woke. The thought made Tara tremble so hard her teeth rattled.

The curtain rings sang as Rita breezed in. The sight of the trim black woman with kind eyes and a wide smile cheered Tara. She’d been in every fifteen minutes to check on Faye.

“How you doing?” she asked, glancing at Tara as she took Faye’s temperature.

“I’m fine. How’s Faye?”

“Let’s just see.” Rita performed the neuro check, running a flashlight across Faye’s eyes, pressing her skin with the point of a safety pin, then gripping her hand. “Squeeze, baby,” Rita said to Faye. “Do that for me now.”

Tara held her breath, staring at her sister’s pale hand in Rita’s brown one, waiting for a twitch, a quiver, a flicker of life, but her sister was as still as the death that stalked her.

Rita put down Faye’s hand, then turned to go.

“She could wake up any time, right?” Tara asked.

“She could.” There was a hesitation in Rita’s voice.

“Or...” Tara swallowed hard. “We could lose her.”

Rita didn’t answer.

“How does she compare to other patients with similar injuries?”

“I’m in ICU as a vacation fill-in, so I can’t really say.” The despair Tara felt must have shown on her face because Rita added, “She’s made it this far. She’s a fighter.”

“She is.” Tara’s heart swelled with pride. Faye had always been strong and brave. Surely that would save her. “What can I do to help? Bring in music? Read to her? Isn’t that good for coma patients?”

“Once she makes it out of ICU,” Rita said. “Long as it’s good music,” she added sternly, clearly joking to cheer Tara up. “She’ll likely end up on my floor and I have my standards.”

Tara went along