Home > Silent Night(6)

Silent Night(6)
Author: Danielle Steel

Whitney looked like she was in shock when Chad came back up on deck a few minutes later and saw how pale she was.

“What happened? Is everything okay?” She shook her head as tears filled her eyes and she couldn’t speak for a moment.

“My sister had an accident with Emma, my niece. Paige was killed at the scene two days ago, and Emma is in a coma at Cedars-Sinai with a serious head injury. It took them this long to find me.” She felt guilty now for being so blithe about her absence, unaware that there was a problem.

“Oh my God, that’s awful,” he said, deeply sympathetic. “Who’s with her?” He looked startled and shaken too. The news was so severe, with her sister killed and Whitney’s niece critically injured.

“No one. I’m it now.” The reality of it hit Whitney like an avalanche, and Chad looked stunned too.

“No father?”

Whitney shook her head. “He was just a friend of my sister’s, a sperm donor. He died when Emma was a few months old. My sister wanted to have a baby on her own.” He nodded, there was nothing he could say. “Chad, I’m so sorry, but I have to go back now, right away. I can’t leave her there alone.”

“Of course not.” He had children and understood that. “You should meet with the doctors and see if there are any decisions that have to be made. You can come back in a few days, when you see how things are going.” She stared at him as he said it and realized that he didn’t understand the situation fully. She was not a concerned aunt now, she was Emma’s only living relative, and her only stand-in parent. Emma had no one else in the world except Whitney, and she didn’t even know yet that her mother was dead. If she came out of the coma, it would be Whitney who would have to tell her. She couldn’t imagine herself coming back to the boat anytime soon, even if Emma made a miraculous recovery. And where was Emma going to live? The answer to that question was obvious too. And now Whitney had her sister’s funeral to arrange.

“You’ll make it back to the boat sometime in the next three weeks. I’ll be waiting for you, Whitney. Please call me when you get there and tell me what’s happening. Now, how are we going to get you home?” Chad rang for the purser and explained that Whitney had to get back to L.A. immediately. They had already unpacked her bags that afternoon on the way to Portofino, but they promised to pack her up again right away.

“Do you want to leave it all here?” Chad suggested, and Whitney shook her head. She didn’t see how she could return to the boat.

Within minutes, they had arranged for a helicopter to pick her up and fly her back to Nice. It would be a much shorter trip than it had been by sea. They had tried for a flight out of Genoa too, but every seat was booked. They got a first-class ticket for her to Paris, and the first flight to Los Angeles a few hours after that. Twenty minutes later, Whitney was dressed in black jeans and a white shirt with a black cotton blazer over her arm. Her bags were packed and ready, and the helicopter arrived and landed on the upper deck landing pad ten minutes later. Chad pulled her into his arms for a long embrace.

“Call me. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.” She nodded, her eyes filled with tears.

“Thank you. I’m sorry to bail on you, Chad. There’s nothing else I can do.”

“Of course not. You’ll be back in a few days,” he said reassuringly, but she couldn’t bring Emma with her with a head injury, nor abandon a nine-year-old child who had just lost her mother. Whitney’s life was going to get complicated now. She just hoped that Emma would survive. Whitney didn’t want to lose both of them. She couldn’t. Chad kissed her gently on the lips and handed her into the helicopter. Her bags were already on it, and as they lifted off and headed toward Nice, Chad was standing on deck waving to her. He tried to look encouraging, but was sad for her. She couldn’t help wonder when she would see him again. Probably no time soon. But that seemed unimportant. Her little sister was lying dead in the police morgue in L.A., and Emma was fighting for her life. Nothing else mattered now.

Chapter 3

It was a ten-hour flight from Paris to Los Angeles, with the additional flight from Nice before that, and a layover at Charles de Gaulle airport. The flight took off from Paris at ten P.M., and with the time difference, they landed at L.A. an hour later than the time they took off from CDG. It was eight A.M. the next day in Paris by then, and eleven P.M. in L.A. Whitney wasn’t sure if Chad was up, so she texted him that she had arrived safely, picked up her luggage at baggage claim, cleared customs, and took a cab to her house to drop off her bags. She just opened the front door and shoved them in, set the alarm again, and ran back to the waiting cab and asked him to take her to Cedars-Sinai. It was one A.M. She had dozed on the plane, but only for a few minutes here and there. Whitney had too much on her mind to get any rest. She was still trying to get her head around the fact that her baby sister was dead. They had argued for most of their childhood and been different all their lives. Paige had always frustrated her. Their thought processes were so opposite and conflicting at times. Paige’s ambitions had always seemed so skewed to Whitney, but she loved her and now she was dead.

Whitney couldn’t understand why neither of them had their seatbelts on, according to the police. It seemed totally irresponsible to her. Was it an oversight, was Paige distracted, did she not care? She was usually so careful with Emma and treated her like a precious jewel. Why, this time, had she put her at risk, and herself as well? It was the kind of stupid, flaky thing Paige did at times that no one could explain.

Paige monitored a million unimportant details and left out the vital one that had cost her her life, and maybe Emma’s. A head injury was a very serious thing. None of it made any sense. What was Paige doing when the truck hit them? Why didn’t she see it coming? She wondered if the police lieutenant’s guess was right and she had been texting, or talking on the phone. And what was Emma doing? Why was her seatbelt off? She knew better too. What was going to happen to Emma now? Whitney was her only relative, and Emma would have to live with her. She hadn’t spelled it out to Chad before she’d left, but this was going to change Whitney’s life radically. She was no longer a single woman with no children. She was a single woman who would be living with a nine-year-old niece, if she lived. And if she didn’t, Whitney would be alone in the world, with no husband, no kids, no sister, and no Emma. She was overwhelmed with a sense of loneliness, loss, and fear as they pulled up in front of the hospital.

Whitney paid the cabdriver and gave him a big tip, then rushed into the emergency entrance of the hospital and asked for pediatric ICU, where they were monitoring Emma closely. There were no visiting hours at pediatric ICU, family could come at any time. Whitney got off the elevator and followed the signs. She went to the nurses’ desk and glanced around at the cubicles where parents huddled with their desperately sick children. Whitney wondered which one Emma was in. The cubicles were dark since it was late at night, with monitors lit up, and nurses in hospital scrubs walked soundlessly in and out to check on a beeping monitor or the sound of an alarm.

“I’m Dr. Whitney Watts,” she said quietly. “I’m looking for Emma Watts.” The nurse at the desk nodded and got up and walked Whitney into one of the cubicles a few feet away. In the next one, you could hear a child crying, and a baby wailing down the hall. This wasn’t a happy place, it was full of pain and fear, agonizing procedures, and parents’ terror that their children might not survive.

Emma looked tiny lying on the bed, with a breathing tube in her mouth and tape attaching it to her face, while a nurse stood next to her, monitoring her vital signs. There was a huge bandage on her head, and electrodes poking out from under it recording an ongoing EEG to check her brain waves. Her face was black and blue, and her arm was in a cast. There was no sound in the room, except from the machines. The two nurses exchanged a look as Whitney approached the bed. Emma was covered with a thin blanket, and the nurse standing next to her whispered that she’d been spiking a fever since six o’clock that night.

“What does that mean?” Whitney asked, panicked.

“It can happen after an accident, or from the head injury. Her brain regulates her temperature and body heat, and it’s deregulated right now. We’re keeping an eye on it. The attending came in at ten o’clock. There’s been no change.” Whitney nodded, her eyes huge and swimming with tears as she gently touched Emma’s delicate hand. It struck Whitney more than ever how much she looked like Paige. The two sisters didn’t even look alike, Whitney was much taller, had long straight ebony-colored hair in contrast to Paige’s blond wavy hair, although they both had their mother’s sky blue eyes. Paige had always seemed more fragile, and Whitney calmer and stronger, although she didn’t feel it now.

Whitney shuddered, thinking of her sister in the morgue. She didn’t want Paige to be cold. She didn’t want to leave her there, but she had to see Emma first. There was a narrow cot in the cubicle, if Whitney wanted to stay, and the nurse who had walked her in offered to make it up as a bed for her, but Whitney didn’t want to sleep now, particularly if these were Emma’s final hours. She wanted to stay close to her and sat down in the chair next to the bed. Emma had an IV in one arm, and Whitney tenderly took the other hand in her own.

“Hi, baby, it’s Aunt Whit. I came back from France to see you. I love you so much. I’m right here with you. You’re going to be okay.” Whitney talked to her in soft, soothing tones without stopping for the next two hours, on the off chance that Emma could hear her. Medical reports were full of people who claimed that they had heard their loved ones speaking to them, even when they were in a coma. Whitney wasn’t taking any chances. She wanted Emma to know she was there. She had been through a terrible trauma and been alone in the hospital for the past two days with no one familiar next to her.

Whitney sat next to her all night, and as the sun came up over Los Angeles, she gently laid her head down next to Emma and fell asleep. They left her there until the hospital neurologist came by to check Emma in the morning and saw Whitney sleeping there, her head close to Emma’s.

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