Blood Bond



Frey's voice at my ear.

We're in bed, naked under cool sheets, limbs entangled. My arm is thrown over Frey's waist, his are around my shoulders. I'm floating in the afterglow of sex and feeding. I raise my head, trace his chin with a finger.

"Never been happier. How about you?"

"After what just happened, you have to ask?"

Light is beginning to filter through the drapes of our bedroom. "It's almost dawn. Think we should try to get some sleep?"

He takes my hand, slides it down between his thighs. "We only have one honeymoon night. Or morning. I hear that once a couple gets married, they lose interest in sex. If that's true . . ."

But whatever crazy thing he was about to say is cut short by a gasp of pleasure.

It's not just my hand that's found its way between his thighs.

"Azhe'e? Anna? Are you up?"

John-John's voice and timid knocking on the bedroom door sends me hustling from beneath the sheets and both of us scampering for robes.

Frey lifts an eyebrow and whispers, "Well, I was just about to be."

I slap his arm and grin, mouthing, Later, as I swing open the door.

John-John scampers inside and jumps up on the bed. "I'm supposed to tell you that breakfast is ready!"

I glance at the clock. "It's only six. Who told you to come get us?"

A giggle. "David. He said you like to get up real early. And today especially."

I grab John-John and tickle his stomach until he squeals. "David said that, did he?" I look over his head to Frey. "We'll get even with him for this."

Frey grabs one of John-John's hands, I take the other, and we swing him off the bed. "Well, he'd better have coffee made." I pump a fist in the air. "Or I'm going to sock him one!"

John-John laughs. "I want to see that."

And with John-John between us, we head downstairs to start our first day as a family.

I expect to see everyone gathered around the table, David with a wicked grin to let us know he can guess what John-John interrupted.

But instead, it's just David and Tracey waiting for us in the kitchen. And their expressions are somber, serious.

I look around. "Where's Mom?"

David leans down to John-John. "Will you please go upstairs and see if Trish is awake?"

John-John's face mirrors confusion. It's obvious to even a young kid, David's mood changed in the minutes he was away. "What's wrong?" he asks.

"I'll tell you when you get back with Trish, all right?"

John-John casts a look at Frey. "Go ahead, Shiye," Frey says, turning him gently toward the stairs. He, too, catches the undertow in David's voice. "And get dressed while you're up there, okay?"

Frey watches his son disappear through the door. "What's going on, David?"

He asks the question sounding an alarm in my head and gut-the question I couldn't give voice to myself. Impulsively, I slip my hand into Frey's, seeking its warmth and comfort.

David's eyes are on me. "It's your mother, Anna. Your father has taken her to the hospital."

The next words he utters register somewhere in the back of my mind-something about not being able to wake her, that when he finally did, she was incoherent. That he called her doctor, bundled her into her robe and brought her right down. That he told David and Tracey what was happening and left driving instructions to the hospital and keys for the extra car in the garage.

"Why didn't you call for me?" My voice is surprisingly calm and quiet when what I want to do is scream and shake David because he didn't come and get me.

"There wasn't time," David replies. "Your father was gone before I could. But I wrote down the instructions. You and Frey should leave right away. We'll stay here with Trish and John-John."

"No. Trish should come along, too."

David's expression grows even more solemn. "Your dad asked that you two come alone. At least until the doctors determine what's happening. You can come back for Trish when you know."

Frey is nodding. "He's right. Maybe what happened was caused by exhaustion. Or overexcitement. Something easily treated and we'll be bringing her home with us."

"Or maybe it was caused by the wedding." The words barely clear my throat, it's so tight and dry. The other possibility I can't say aloud-but it's shrieking in my head until I think surely David and Tracey must hear.

Or because the truth of what I told her-what I am-suddenly dawned and she couldn't face it after all.

"Come on, Anna." Frey is reading my expression. I can tell he guesses what I am thinking as he steers me toward the stairs. "Don't jump to conclusions. Let's get dressed. The sooner we get to the hospital, the quicker we'll know."

There's nothing else to say. Frey and I run back to the bedroom, dress with otherworldly speed, pulling on jeans and tees and little else, aiming to be out the door before Trish and John-John reappear. We have to be. I couldn't face Trish and tell her she can't come with us.

David and Tracey are startled by our sudden reappearance, dressed and grabbing for the directions and keys. But they don't question us, letting us go with promises to take care of the kids.

We find the car in the garage, a little vintage MG. Frey slips on sunglasses, the ones that allow his feline color blindness to be adjusted to human sight, and jumps behind the wheel. I let him drive. I couldn't trust my shaking hands. He expertly puts the car in gear and we're screaming down the driveway, my heart pounding so hard, my vision is clouded bloodred.

The directions Dad left for the hospital are clear and easily followed. In ten minutes, we've arrived. Frey lets me off at the Emergency Room door and drives away to find a place to park.

The ER is empty, save for an attendant in scrubs behind the admission's desk. I tell her who I'm looking for. She consults a clipboard and directs me upstairs, the Oncology Critical Care Unit.

The name does not inspire confidence. Still, I make it to the elevator without giving in to the impulse to break down. I can't be weak now .

I see my father sitting in a chair outside one of the examining rooms. He jumps up when he sees me coming toward him, opens his arms and cradles me the same way he did right after my brother died, crushing me to his chest, holding on as if to a lifeline.

I hug him back, mindful of my strength. So much has changed since I was that seventeen-year-old mourning the loss of her brother. When I feel my father shaking, I question whether I should make it all stop. I have the power to bring Mom back to the family, healthy.

But changed.

Frey's footsteps echo in the empty hallway. Dad lets me go, steps back. He clears his throat, turning his back to brush at his eyes with the back of his hand.

Frey pretends not to see Dad's distress, instead bending toward me to kiss my cheek. "Any word?"

Dad's voice is steady again, composed when he answers for me. "No. Not yet."

"Dad, what happened?"

He sits back down, motioning us to join him. Frey takes the chair to the left, I, to the right. Dad rests his elbows on his knees and buries his face in his hands. "I couldn't wake her up this morning. She didn't respond to my voice. She didn't respond to my shaking her. Her breathing wasn't labored. She just wouldn't wake up. I panicked. Called her doctor. He said it would be quicker to drive her here myself than wait for an ambulance." His voice drops, his shoulders sag but he straightens up in the chair. "So I did." He glances toward the closed exam room door. "Dr. Gerard has been in with her since we arrived."

"Has this ever happened before?" Frey asks, voice leaden with concern.

Dad shakes his head.

I take his hand, fearful that he'll flinch at its coldness. Instead, he takes my hand in both of his. "You're freezing." He begins kneading my hand, pulling me to lean my head against his chest.

Another flashback to another cold room-only this one was a morgue and I was seated by myself outside a set of swinging doors waiting for my parents to come back.

I close my eyes, trying to push the memory away, my body shaking with the effort the same way my father's shook a few minutes ago.

Dad's arms close around me. "Don't," he says softly. "Don't think the worst. Not yet."

I open my eyes to find Frey looking at me, his very posture humming with the need to do something and his face filled with frustration because he knows there's nothing to be done. Feeling powerless is not an emotion either of us can abide. I hold out a hand to him and he grabs it.

The door to Mom's room opens. Dad and I stand, step apart, focusing all our attention on the man approaching. I try to catch a glimpse into the room before the door snaps closed, but I see only the end of the bed and a nurse writing on a clipboard.

The doctor speaks to my father in French, adding to my exasperation. He's young, thin, sober-faced, head covered with the kind of skullcap doctors wear in surgery, body cloaked in white scrub pants and a spotless lab coat. But my father's face clears, his shoulders relax a little more with each word. Frey is at my side, has taken my hand again; he is interpreting Dad's reactions the same way. The news can't be all bad.

Finally, the doctor shakes my father's hand, nods to Frey and I, and strides down the hall.

I barely wait until he's out of sight before rounding on my father. "What did he say?"

Dad puts a hand on my shoulder, smiles. "We can bring her home today. She was dehydrated. Overtired. But they're giving her IV fluids. We can go in."

I'm the first through the door.

Mom is propped up, still in her own nightgown and robe, one IV tube pumping clear fluid into her arm. She smiles apologetically. "I'm so sorry."

But I've already caught her up in a hug that muffles her words against my shoulder. "Don't be silly. The doctor said you were dehydrated. That's what you get from drinking all that champagne. And overtired. I was worried that might happen."

She's shaking her head. "And I wouldn't change a thing. The wedding was so beautiful. And what's a French wedding without champagne?"

Dad waggles a finger at her. "Well, you gave us quite a scare. From now on, less excitement and more rest." He turns to me. "Why don't you two go back and let the others know what's happened. They must be beside themselves with worry. Especially Trish. Tell them we'll be home for dinner."

I look at Mom. "You sure you don't want me to stay, too?"

Mom pulls me forward for a kiss. "No. You and Daniel should be with the children. Assure them I'm fine. Tell Catherine to prepare a nice dinner for us. We'll eat outside-all of us-the family."

I hesitate, looking hard at her. Her voice is strong, her eyes clear, her skin radiant. "Okay. We'll go. I'll bring Trish back, though, if she insists on coming."

Mom shakes her head again. "No. I don't want her to see me like this. Just assure her I'll be home soon."

She's adamant. Dad interjects, "Really, Anna. There's no need for Trish to come. Maybe she and John-John can go riding this afternoon. Tell her by the time they get back, Mom will be home."

I hold up my hands in surrender. "Okay. Okay." I lean over and give Mom another quick hug. "I don't remember you ever being so stubborn."

"Who do you think you got it from?" Dad asks with a chuckle.

Frey has leaned over to peck my mom's cheek, too. "I'm not going to question it ever again."

I feign shock. "You think I'm stubborn?"

"Obstinate. Inflexible. Willful-"

That last gets Frey a sock on the arm. I'm not feigning this time. "Willful? You make me sound like a brat."

Dad and Frey both shoot me looks that in spite of it all, make me smile. "Well. Nice to know what my new husband and father really think of me. We'd better get out of here before this conversation about my character degenerates any further."

Mom is laughing and Dad smilingly waves us out the door. When I glance back, he's perched on the side of the bed, Mom's right hand clasped firmly in both of his own.

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