A disclaimer: The medical information contained in this chapter and those to follow is based solely on my naïve attempts to understand and synthesize the contents of dozens of web sites and medical journal articles. Some of this is probably wrong, but I hope it at least bears a slight resemblance to reality.

 

“Hey, Will, how about that one? Very nice.” Richard’s lascivious gaze was glued to a tall blonde in a jogging bra and tiny running shorts. “I bet she has an all-over tan. Wouldn’t mind finding out.”

William made no response, so Richard tried again.

“Oh, how I love running at the reservoir. The scenery is spectacular. And the New York skyline ain’t bad either.”

William merely grunted in response, and Richard shook his head. William was notorious for his world-class brooding, but this was ridiculous.

“Look, I came out this morning to keep you company on your run, leaving behind a hot brunette, I might add. The least you could do is talk to me.”

“Sorry. I have a lot of things on my mind,” William answered in a tight, breathless voice.

They had just finished their first circuit around the reservoir in Central Park. At this point in their run, William was usually in disgustingly excellent form, but not this morning. Richard shot a worried glance at his cousin. “Are you okay, old man?”

“I’m fine,” William answered in a tone that discouraged further questions.

Richard wasn’t that easily intimidated. “I don’t think so, cuz. You’re panting like … well, like I was last night, but I had a much better excuse. Plus, I’m not having any trouble keeping up with you this morning. When you stop and consider the energy my bad habits consume, versus the supposed health benefits of your monkish lifestyle, something’s gotta be wrong. I mean, look at us. We’re moving so slowly, that blonde with the tan and the nice ass zoomed past us.”

“I didn’t get much sleep last night.” William slowed his pace to a walk, breathing hard as he wiped the sweat off his forehead.

“Lack of sleep wouldn’t affect you this much. Come to think of it, this isn’t the first time you’ve had problems during a run lately.”

William shrugged. “I’ve been tired other times too.”

Richard hesitated. William hated being nagged about his health, but something was seriously wrong. “You ought to go see your doctor.”

“I have an appointment this afternoon.”

“Good. Look, maybe it’s stress. Maybe you’re trying to do too much.”

“That’s ridiculous. I’m not an invalid. I’m perfectly capable of leading a normal life.”

Richard sighed. “I know that. But your life isn’t anywhere close to normal. It would be a challenge for anyone to keep up with your schedule. Maybe we need to lighten up your travel, build in more rest periods.”

“How would we do that? You know how far ahead my calendar fills up. We were just talking yesterday about booking something five years out, remember? I know you’re trying to help, but I don’t want to discuss this anymore.”

“Okay, I’ll get off your back, but I’m glad you’re seeing the doctor. If something happened to you, I’d have no choice but to drink scotch and shag women twenty-four hours a day, instead of just part-time like I do now, and you know how much I’d hate that.”

“That’s why I embarked on my career, you know,” William said with mock gravity. “So I could save you from your baser instincts.”

Richard grinned, relieved that William was sounding more like himself. “Oh, and speaking of baser instincts, I want to hear about your evening with the delectable Ms. Bennet. And you know which part of the evening I’m talking about. How was it?”

“Don’t be crass, Richard, if you can help it.”

“I can’t, and you know that. I like to think it’s part of my considerable charm. But you didn’t answer my question. What time did you leave her place this morning? I assume that’s why you didn’t get much sleep.”

“None of your damn business.”

Richard wiped his wristband across his forehead. “Lighten up, old man. I’m just looking out for your welfare. After all, sex is the best stress reliever I know. I don’t have any personal experience with celibacy, but I’ve heard it can be a frustrating state.”

“You don’t have to tell me that,” William muttered.

“That’s probably why you’re such a physical wreck. Your body is rebelling. It wants to have some fun, but Brother William refuses to indulge.”

William stared at Richard in glacial silence.

“Seriously,” Richard continued, “if you don’t find yourself a willing partner and put your equipment through its paces once in a while, it might atrophy and fall off. So, did you get any last night?”

“And I reiterate, that’s none of your business.”

“Oh, come on,” Richard retorted cheerfully. “It’s not exactly a secret that you’ve got a serious case of the hots for this girl. Not that I blame you. Nice girl, intelligent, great rack … and besides that, there’s something in her eyes that makes me think she’d be a tigress in bed. I don’t see any claw marks on you, but—”

“Stop talking about her that way.”

“Come on, Will, don’t be such a tight-ass. I’m just saying that she—”

William’s eyes blazed. “I’m serious. Stop talking about her that way, or I swear to God I’ll make you regret it.”

Richard stared at William, astonished at the ferocity in his cousin’s voice. “I’m sorry. Really. Didn’t mean to step over the line.”

William nodded coldly and began to run again. They ran in silence for a few minutes, and then Richard resumed his questioning.

“What’s the deal with you, anyway? You haven’t gone and done something stupid like falling in love, have you?”

William didn’t answer right away, and Richard noted that he was breathing hard again. When he spoke, he was looking straight ahead. “You’re right. That would be stupid.”

“Glad to hear you say that. I was starting to wonder if you’d gone sentimental on me and had something serious going on with this girl.”

“No, there’s nothing serious going on. Change the subject.”

“Okay, new subject. Are you and Georgie and Chuckles still going to Pemberley next week?”

“That’s the plan.” William seemed to struggle to get the words out.

Richard frowned at William. “Something really is wrong with you. Let’s sit and rest for a few minutes.”

“I keep telling you, I’m fine,” William said, his labored breathing belying his statement.

Richard shook his head. No point pushing Will once he’s dug in his heels. “Okay, I’ll drop it. Anyway, about Pemberley. I was thinking I might join you for a few days. Sun and surf, gorgeous island girls in string bikinis, maybe a planter’s punch or two in the afternoon.”

William didn’t respond.

“And I’ll make it my mission to get you laid before we leave there. I’m sure I can count on Bingley’s support and …”

Richard’s genial banter died in his throat as William veered away from him and stumbled toward the wrought iron fence lining the path. He gripped the fence tightly, his face ghostly white, and clutched his chest, gasping for air.

“Will, what’s wrong?”

As Richard looked on in horror, William’s eyes went blank and he slid along the fence to the ground.

 

Elizabeth attached a strip of packing tape to the box she had just filled and sealed it securely. Then she fetched an empty box from the dining area. She brought it into the living room and set it next to her stack of CD’s.

She wrapped them in paper and packed them in the box, and then remembered that one was missing from the stack. She retrieved the case for William’s jazz CD from its undignified resting place in a dusty corner on the floor, where it had landed when she threw it last night.

She ran her finger over a new crack in the case, and gazed at the cover photo of a pensive William at the piano. A deep sense of shame came over her, and she stood up and went into the bedroom with a sudden sense of purpose.

She dialed quickly before she had a chance to reconsider. At first she was disappointed when Sonya’s voice delivered the voicemail greeting. But on the other hand, it might be easier to talk uninterrupted. And he’ll be checking his messages; he said he was hoping I’d call.

“Hi, William. It’s Elizabeth. I’ve been thinking about last night, and I’d like for us to talk, if you still want to. I’ll be home tonight, so if you could call—or better yet, stop by so we can talk in person—I’d like that.”

And now she would have to wait. If he called back, they would work things out one way or another. And if he didn’t … then at least she would have proof that his only interest in her had been physical. Either way, she would know.

She returned to her packing with renewed energy. Charlotte had been right about calling William; Elizabeth felt much better now.

 

“There they are!” Mrs. Reynolds exclaimed.

Richard looked down the hospital hallway and was relieved to see Georgiana hurrying toward him, followed by Rose, who was moving at a brisk, but more dignified, pace.

Georgiana accepted the hug Mrs. Reynolds offered. “Is he …?”

“Everything’s going to be fine, dear,” Mrs. Reynolds assured her. “They’re taking good care of him.”

“What happened?” Rose asked.

“We were running in the park,” Richard said. “He was having trouble catching his breath. We walked for a while and he seemed better, but then he started running again, and with almost no warning he passed out. I called for an ambulance and then contacted Sonya, and she called his doctor.”

Rose glanced around the waiting room. “Where is Sonya?”

“She’s with the Admitting people, taking care of the paperwork,” Mrs. Reynolds said.

“Is Dr. Rosemont here?” Rose asked

“She got here a few minutes ago,” Mrs. Reynolds replied.

“How soon can we see him?” Georgiana asked, clutching Mrs. Reynolds’s hand.

“The doctor is examining him, dear,” Mrs. Reynolds answered, patting her hand. “They’ll come get us when we can see him.”

“Have they given you any idea what’s wrong? I assume it’s related to his heart.” Rose’s voice was calm, but anxiety showed in the tight lines around her eyes.

Richard fidgeted with a loose thread on the hem of his sweat-stained Yale tee shirt. The whole experience had unnerved him beyond anything he could ever remember. “They don’t want to speculate till they run some tests.”

“Gran, why would you think it’s his heart?” Georgiana asked, frowning.

Mrs. Reynolds smiled. “Don’t let it worry you, dear. He’s going to be just fine.” She turned to Rose. “Mrs. Darcy, why don’t you sit down? We could be waiting for a while.”

Rose allowed Mrs. Reynolds to lead her to a chair. The waiting area was by no means plush; it was furnished solely with a few tables, a motley collection of uncomfortable chairs, and a wall-mounted television. But the space was large and, at the moment, sparsely occupied.

“Did he regain consciousness while you were with him?” Rose asked Richard.

“Yes. He came around pretty quickly; I was still on the phone with 911 when he opened his eyes. He tried to convince me to cancel the call, and he was pretty annoyed when I wouldn’t, but he was still struggling to breathe.”

“You did the right thing,” Rose told him. “Though I wish you had convinced him to stop running before this happened.”

“I tried, Gran, but you know how stubborn he can be.” Richard wouldn’t admit that he had been blaming himself for the same thing for the past hour.

Rose nodded. “I’m sure you handled things as well as anyone could.”

Silence fell over the group as they sat together, helpless to do anything but wait.

 

“How are you feeling?” Dr. Rosemont asked William. She stood beside his bed inspecting an EKG read-out.

William was too frightened to conceal the truth. He pulled the oxygen mask away from his face. “I’m having trouble catching … my breath and it’s …” The mask was helping, but his chest was still heaving.

“I know it’s unpleasant and frightening. I’ve ordered some medication that should help.”

“Why is … this happening?”

“From the EKG, you appear to be in the early stages of congestive heart failure.”

Fear gripped William’s insides. I knew it. “It’s my … heart valve, isn’t it?”

Dr. Rosemont raised her eyebrows. “Is that what you think?”

“I’ve suspected it for … a while.”

“It could be the valve,” she said, her expression thoughtful, “but there are other possibilities. I’m sorry to make you talk when you’re out of breath, but I need to verify your symptoms. I’ll use yes or no questions as much as I can - feel free to just nod or shake your head. Have you been having frequent headaches?”

He nodded.

“Do they feel like something pounding in your head?”

He nodded again.

“How long ago did they start?”

William removed the oxygen mask and said, “Three … months ago.”

“This has been going on for three months?” Her eyes narrowed and she frowned.

He replaced the mask, nodding. He had known she would be annoyed at his procrastination.

“What about dizzy spells?”

Another nod.

“Any nosebleeds?”

He removed the mask again. “Once or twice.”

“And the breathlessness? It happens while exercising?”

He nodded once more, following it up with a quiet groan. It felt like someone had placed an iron weight on his chest.

“Any leg cramps?”

He shook his head.

“Okay. Let’s get your pulse and blood pressure.”

She checked his pulse at his neck, wrist, and upper thigh and took multiple blood pressure readings as well. She finished these tests and then nodded. “That’s what I thought. A large pressure gradient, plus a weak lower-body pulse.”

William raised his eyebrows in a silent question.

“Your coarctation,” she said. “I think it’s recurred.”

He stared at her. He had convinced himself that his defective heart valve had finally failed for good.

“It happens sometimes. I’ll order some tests to confirm it.”

Despite the fear of doctors he had developed during his extensive childhood experience with medical professionals, William had formed a solid doctor-patient relationship with Teresa Rosemont. Her cheerful, no-nonsense style suited him, and he trusted her advice on medical matters, even if he sometimes failed to follow it.

“Will I need … surgery again?” he asked, surprised by how calmly he asked the question.

“Probably not. These days we have some good non-surgical alternatives. But let’s get the test results first, and then we’ll discuss treatment options.”

A nurse came in carrying three tiny bottles and some syringes. Dr. Rosemont spoke briefly to the nurse and then turned to William. “The nurse is going to give you the meds I ordered. They should help your breathing, and also lower your blood pressure.”

He frowned and lifted the oxygen mask again. “I took my blood pressure … medication this morning.”

“You need something stronger right now. I’ve also ordered a sedative to relax you.” She touched his arm in a comforting gesture. “I’m going to go order the tests and arrange to have you admitted to the CCU. Don’t worry. We’re going to take good care of you.”

“Promise?” He had intended it as a joke, but he found himself waiting for her answer.

“Absolutely. You still haven’t recorded that Khachaturian piano concerto I’ve been bugging you about for years, and I have no intention of letting you get out of doing that.”

The nurse began injecting the medications into William’s IV line. He settled back against the pillows and, despite his labored breathing, did his best to relax.

 

Later that afternoon, William was resting in his private room in the hospital’s Cardiac Care Unit, his breathing improved substantially. He had graduated from the oxygen mask to a cannula, a slender tube attached to his nostrils. At least, he thought that was what the nurse had called it. At first it had sounded like “canneloni.” Mamma loved canneloni, didn’t she? I should ask Mrs. Reynolds to make some.

It had been like this since the medications took effect. He drifted in and out of awareness, finding it difficult to concentrate when people spoke to him, and not making much sense even to himself. There was something he needed to do, something that had been flitting through his consciousness but vanishing before he could grab hold of it, leaving behind a sense of unease.

Richard and Georgie were seated in his two visitor chairs. He thought he remembered them telling him that Gran, Sonya, and the Reynoldses were in the waiting room down the hall. He reached out for a memory from earlier in the day, trying to grasp it. Yes, there it was. The nurses had been willing to waive the usual two-visitor limit as long as the group stayed quiet, but Gran had protested.

“William needs peace and quiet, not the six of us stumbling around making noise. We’ll take turns.”

He was sure she was enforcing the law with the enthusiasm of a general on the battlefield. He imagined her dressed up like General Patton, complete with a pith helmet, and chuckled.

“Did you say something, Will?” It sounded like Georgie.

“No, just a funny thought.” Was that his voice? It sounded thick and slurred, not like him at all.

He closed his eyes, and the next time he opened them, Gran and Sonya were in the chairs. Unfortunately, the face he most wanted to see, the one that had begun to appear in his confused dreams, was absent.

Elizabeth. At last, the elusive source of his unease crystallized in his mind. The fight last night. What if she decided to call me? Is it still Thursday? I don’t have my cell phone … do I? I think it’s … He couldn’t remember.

“Sonya,” he said, his hoarse voice seeming to come out in slow motion.

“Yes?”

He cleared his throat and focused on speaking clearly. This was important. “I need you to do something for me. My cell phone.”

“What about it?”

“Bring it to me.”

“Why? You hate that thing. I usually have to beg you to leave it turned on.”

He lacked the energy to invent an excuse and the truth was too embarrassing. “I need it.”

“There’s a phone here in the room. Besides, if you have any calls you need made, just tell me and I’ll handle them. If it’s about your appearances at Tanglewood this weekend, don’t worry, it’s taken care of. Maestro Ozawa sends his best wishes for a speedy recovery.”

“No, that’s not it.” Tanglewood? Ozawa? Oh, I was supposed to go to Boston on Friday, wasn’t I? Yes, that’s right, on Friday, after Lizzy is gone. No, after Elizabeth is gone. She doesn’t want me to call her Lizzy.

“Were you expecting a call? Because if you need me to check your messages, I will.”

“No.” The last thing he needed was to have Sonya hear an angry message from Elizabeth. He considered it entirely possible that Elizabeth might call him, not to make peace, but to berate him further. “Just bring me my phone,” he murmured, rubbing his bleary eyes.

“I’m afraid cell phones aren’t permitted in the CCU.” William and his visitors looked up to see Dr. Rosemont standing in the doorway.

“They make too much noise, and they can interfere with some of the equipment,” She stepped into the room, glancing at the monitor above William’s bed, which displayed his vital signs. “How are you feeling?”

“Better,” he sighed, struggling to stay alert. The sedative finally seemed to be wearing off. “Are the test results in?”

“Yes, and it’s as I expected. Would you like the whole family to hear this?”

He nodded. “Sonya, would you go get the others?”

Sonya returned with Richard, Georgiana, and the Reynoldses trailing close behind. Georgie walked up to the bed, grasping William’s hand firmly and giving him a tremulous smile.

Dr. Rosemont looked around the room. “I assume everyone here is familiar with William’s medical history?”

Rose shook her head. “Georgiana isn’t.”

Dr. Rosemont turned to William. “Should I …?”

William nodded. He and Rose had decided to protect her from this information until now, but it couldn’t be kept from her any longer.

Dr. Rosemont turned to Georgiana. “William was born with a congenital heart defect called coarctation of the aorta. Do you know what the aorta is?”

Georgiana nodded. “We studied the circulatory system in biology last year.”

“A normal aorta is large, but William’s had a constricted section. Sometimes, we find the problem as soon as a baby is born, but in William’s case, the trouble didn’t show up till … how old were you?”

“He was two,” Rose interjected. “It took several months before the doctors identified the cause.”

“Diagnostic techniques weren’t as good then as they are today,” Dr. Rosemont said. “Coarctation creates all sorts of problems, because the heart has a hard time pumping blood to the rest of the body.”

“He was a very sick little boy for quite a while, the poor dear,” Mrs. Reynolds remarked.

Dr. Rosemont nodded and then continued. “William had surgery to correct the problem. But occasionally it recurs, and that’s what has happened in this case.”

Georgiana looked at William with huge, frightened eyes. “You have to have surgery again?”

William waited for the answer; he was wondering the same thing.

“Probably not,” Dr. Rosemont said. “A procedure called balloon angioplasty has a high success rate. We thread a small tube through the circulatory system with a tiny balloon attached. Once it arrives at the site of the constriction, we inflate the balloon to open the vessel. Then we place tiny mesh tubes called stents in the aorta to keep it open.”

“When will you do the procedure?” William asked.

“We’re checking tomorrow’s schedule in the cath lab; I hope to get you in there in the morning. If all goes well, you may be able to go home as early as Saturday.”

“It fixes the problem that fast?” Richard asked.

“The results are usually quick. But I may want to keep William here for an extra day or two. This problem has been building for a while, and we need to make sure there hasn’t been any permanent damage to his heart or kidneys.”

“What about the defective heart valve?” William asked.

Georgiana shot him a bewildered look. “You have a defective heart valve too?”

Dr. Rosemont nodded. “Yes, he does. Malformed valves often wear out faster than normal ones, so he may need to have it replaced one day. But so far it’s working well enough.”

Silence fell over the room. Dr. Rosemont looked around. “Any other questions?” She paused, but no one spoke. “Well, if you think of anything, don’t hesitate to ask William’s nurse to get in touch with me. I need to go back to the office, but I’ll stop by this evening, and I’ll know by then when the procedure is going to take place.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” Rose said, and the others joined in the chorus.

Dr. Rosemont nodded. “You’re welcome. Get some rest, William. That’s the best thing you can do right now.”

 

Elizabeth looked up from the box of clothing she was packing and checked the time. Although it was late in the afternoon and she had called William hours ago, he hadn’t returned her call.

Maybe it wasn’t surprising. He had told her that he hated his cell phone, so perhaps he rarely checked for messages, though given that he was hoping to hear from her, he might have watched more closely. Unless he’s changed his mind about me. Trying to avoid the shrieking psycho who attacked him last night.

She decided to call him again, in case the first message had gotten lost. She dialed his number, and as before she heard Sonya’s voicemail greeting.

“William? It’s Elizabeth again. I don’t mean to bother you … I just wasn’t sure if you’d gotten my first message. I’d really like to talk to you. I know I suggested earlier that you could come over, but if you’d rather not, it’s okay. Maybe we could just talk on the phone quickly. Anyway, please call me. Bye.”

As the song goes, isn’t it ironic? I threw him out, told him I never wanted to see him again, and now I’m the one trying to get his attention.

Voices echoed in the living room. Sally was apparently home, and from the sound of things she had company. Before Elizabeth had a chance to investigate, Sally entered the bedroom.

“Ah, here you are,” Sally said. “How’s the packing going?”

“Not bad.”

“We thought we’d give you a hand until we have to go to work.”

Jon poked his head through the doorway. “Okay if I come in?”

“Like it would stop you if I said no,” Elizabeth teased.

“Good point.” Jon strolled into the bedroom. “How’s it going?”

Elizabeth forced herself to smile. “Just great.”

“And how was last night?” Jon gave her a knowing smile. “Did the earth move?”

“There was no activity on the Richter scale,” Elizabeth retorted. “Get your mind out of the gutter.”

Sally turned to Jon. “Told ya. You owe me ten bucks.”

“And how was your ‘audition’?” Elizabeth asked with a smirk.

Sally shook her head. “That crazy story was Jon’s idea. He thought if I cleared out, maybe you and William would be … what was your word?”

“Inspired.” Jon inspected himself in the mirror above the dresser, smoothing his hair. “But it sounds like it was all in vain.”

“Everything’s okay, though, right, Lizzy?” Sally asked.

“Of course. Why do you ask?”

“You seem kind of subdued,” Sally said.

“I’m just tired.”

Sally nodded. “We all stayed up too late last night. So, can we help you with some packing?”

“Thanks, that would be terrific. Go get one of those empty boxes in the dining room, if you don’t mind.”

Sally nodded and left the room.

“Do I get to do your underwear drawer?” Jon leered.

“Oh, like you’d care about that,” Elizabeth retorted, glad the subject had veered away from William.

“Of course I would. I love to look at pretty, lacy things.”

“You mean to try on.” Elizabeth stood up and opened another drawer, inspecting its contents.

“I’m not that kind of girl,” he retorted, puffing out his chest. “I’m much too studly to look good in lace.”

Elizabeth laughed softly. Jon had a talent for lifting her spirits. “I’m going to miss you,” she said quietly.

“Me too, sweet girl. You know I love you, right?”

Elizabeth fought back the tears stinging her eyes. “Yes,” she whispered in a choked voice.

“Aw, now don’t cry, or you’re going to make me cry too,” Jon cajoled, wrapping her in his muscular arms.

Elizabeth clung to him tightly, a few tears rolling down her cheeks before she was able to regain control of herself. “I love you too,” she sniffled.

Sally returned to the room. “Is it time for a group hug?” she asked, approaching them.

Elizabeth laughed through her tears. “Sounds good to me.”

 

Dinnertime had come and gone, and William’s remaining visitors were preparing to leave. William had sent Georgiana home over her tearful objections two hours ago, and Richard had gone with her to keep her company at the house until the others returned. Dr. Rosemont had stopped by a short time ago, confirming that William’s angioplasty would be done early the next morning.

The sleeping pill Dr. Rosemont had ordered was starting to take effect. William could feel himself gradually drifting away, but one nagging thought kept him awake.

“You never brought me my cell phone,” he mumbled thickly, trying without success to open his heavy eyelids.

“Now, dear, don’t you remember? The doctor said you’re not allowed to use your cell phone in the CCU.” Mrs. Reynolds spoke in a soothing voice, squeezing his hand. “And anyway, you need to sleep, not be making calls. Whatever it is, it can wait.”

William struggled to stay awake, but his beleaguered body was no match for the sedative. Conscious thought was finally extinguished as sleep overtook him.

 

An uneasy peace reigns over hospitals late at night. The atmosphere cannot truly be described as quiet, with monitors beeping and nurses moving from room to room, checking on their patients. Yet compared to the daytime bustle of doctors making rounds, orderlies with meal carts, patient-room televisions blaring, and visitors wandering the halls, a peculiar hush descends over the rooms and hallways in the hours before dawn.

On this night, a tall, rotund maintenance employee in green scrubs and paper booties pushed a floor cleaning machine in small circles through the halls of the Cardiac Care Unit, adding the sharp chemical smell of floor polish to the bouquet of odors instantly recognizable as the smell of a hospital. A patient somewhere in the darkness coughed repeatedly.

William processed these stimuli at a subconscious level, but his mind was more agreeably engaged.

He heard a noise and opened his eyes. Elizabeth stood in the doorway.

“William?” she said in an anxious tone, her face etched with worry. She hurried across the room, stopping at his bedside and grasping his hand tightly. With her other hand, she caressed his cheek. “William, I came as soon as I heard. I was so scared.”

He wondered how she had heard the news, but decided he didn’t care. She was here, and that was all that mattered. “I’m sorry about last night,” he whispered.

“No, don’t even think about it. I misjudged you; I know that now. I just want you to get better so that we can be together.”

“I’m going to be fine, now that you’re here. I love you, Lizzy.”

She leaned over, kissing him gently.

He reached up and stroked her face. “I wish I could hold you,” he whispered.

She smiled, a conspiratorial glint in her eyes. She began to fiddle with the bed rail, finally lowering it. William slid over to make room and she stretched out beside him, drawing him into her arms. With a contented sigh, he rested his head on her shoulder.

“Go back to sleep,” Elizabeth murmured, stroking his hair. “I’m here, and we’ll get through this together. You’re not alone anymore.”

William opened his eyes. He thought he heard a rustling noise beside his bed. “Lizzy?” he murmured.

“It’s Kathy, your night nurse, Mr. Darcy. I didn’t mean to disturb you; I’m just checking your IV.” She bustled around the room, hanging a new bottle of IV fluid on the pole beside his bed. “Are you all right? Is there anything you need?”

William shook his head. “No, thank you.” Unless Kathy had Elizabeth hidden somewhere in the hallway, what he needed wasn’t available.

“Try to go back to sleep. If you have trouble, let me know. Dr. Rosemont left an order for more of the sedative, in case you needed it.”

Kathy turned off the light and departed, leaving William with no company but the steady beep of his heart monitor. He longed to re-immerse himself in his dream—or fantasy—of Elizabeth, but now he was wide awake. He lay alone in the dark listening to the distant whine of the floor polisher and the quiet footsteps in the hallway, Frank Sinatra’s voice echoing in his head:

In the wee, small hours of the morning,
That’s the time you miss her most of all.1

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1 “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” (D. Mann/B. Hilliard). Previously referenced (see Ch. 18)