Rachel, a nurse who combines traditional and holistic methods for treating cancer patients in their homes, has come to the hill country of Texas to help a young mother get ready for a second round of chemo. Although they've talked on the phone and emailed many times, this is their first meeting in Storm's Interlude.
Rachel was in yellow cotton pajamas, combing out her wet hair when she heard a soft knock at her door. Comb in hand, she opened the door and came face to face with her new patient, Sunny Brentwood. As expected, she was bald, thin and pale, but her wide smile beamed her inner warmth and beauty. Her dark eyes, now devoid of lashes, held what appeared to be pain and dread.
Sunny took Rachel’s hands and squeezed them. “I’m so glad to finally meet you. I know it’s late, but I wanted to welcome you to the Triple-S.” She strolled into the room. “Did you find everything you need?”
“Yes, thank you. You have a lovely home.”
“It’s a tomb.” Sunny shoved her hands into the pockets of the white terrycloth robe that nearly swallowed her and shrugged. “Sorry. Don’t mind me. I’m in a mood tonight. I think that’s why Sawyer couldn’t relax enough to go to sleep.”
“Children sense our moods. I’m sure with you being sick, he’s become more intuitive.”
“Yes, and it breaks my heart to put him through this.” Her thin hand fluttered to her scalp. “Having a bald mother has to be scary for him.”
Rachel placed a hand on Sunny’s arm. “When you hug him and whisper words of love, do you think he cares you’re bald?”
Sunny shrugged and swiped at a falling tear.
“So tell me, why did you call this house a tomb?” She meant to get to the bottom of that negative remark.
Her patient started roaming around the room. “Because everyone in this house whispers now, as if my diseased body can’t handle normal noise.” Pulling back one of the white drapes, Sunny gave a quick glance to the darkness of the night. “It’s so damned quiet here that I almost welcome Sawyer’s tantrums.” She smiled and tilted her head. “Almost.”
“This was my room growing up. I was pregnant with Sawyer when I moved back here, so I took the suite of rooms across the hall since it had a nursery on the other side of the bathroom.” Sunny pulled the drapery back again and looked out. “I used to climb out this window onto the branch of that big ol’ live oak and shimmy down to meet Jackson, my childhood sweetheart.”
She turned to Rachel and smiled. “Oh, the antics we used to pull. My daddy threatened to tan my hide many a time, but he was more bark than bite, especially with me. My brother’s just like Daddy in that regard. He explodes and simmers, but he’s harmless. Don’t let his bluster intimidate you.”
“I won’t. I’m a nurse, remember? I’m used to male doctors flexing their egos.”
Sunny laughed. “Fewer men have egos as big as my brother. He thinks he can boss everyone around. Still, for all that, he’s a loving man. I depend on him more than I should, I suppose, but he’s one of the few men in my life who’s never let me down. Although, he can be a bit of a tyrant. ‘Rest,’ he commands. ‘Keep the house quiet for Sunny,’ he orders.”
Sunny turned and strode to the love seat, picked up a yellow and pink striped throw pillow and fluffed it before flinging it back onto the love seat. “I swear the quiet in this house will drive me batty. Noella won’t even play her mariachi music anymore. I grew up dancing and stomping to that lively beat.” A harsh bark of laughter escaped Sunny’s lungs. “She’s even taken to tiptoeing through the house. Can you believe it?”
Well, Rachel’s first order of business was certainly evident. She’d dispel the tomb image tomorrow. No matter what this brother and the housekeeper said, she’d fill the house with music and laughter.
“They’re all natural responses when you don’t know what to do or how to handle a situation. I gather Noella loves you very much.” She was pleased to see a show of spirit. If Sunny could complain, she could fight.
“Yes, Noella raised my brother and me after Mother left. Storm and I were loud, rambunctious twins, and Mother was too high strung to put up with us. Thank God we had Daddy. He was the best.”
“Mine was, too.” A stab of pain pricked her heart; thinking of her father who’d died a year ago still brought sadness. “I’m sure your mother’s leaving was hard on you.”
“It was hardest on my brother, I think. He had nightmares for a long time afterward.”
“How old were you when she left?”
“Five.” Sunny fussed with the daisies and pulled one out of the vase to smell it, twirling it in her hand. “I barely remember her. My only image is of her being all dressed up, hurrying out the door and blowing us kisses. She spent a lot of time elsewhere.” She shrugged her narrow shoulders. “My fear is I’ll leave my son before he’s old enough to form lasting memories of me. Will Sawyer suffer the way Storm did, I wonder.”
Rachel’s heart twisted at Sunny’s words. She had to do all she could to help Sunny. “Then we have to work doubly hard to see that doesn’t happen.”
Sunny swiped at a tear and nodded. “You’ll meet my brother, Storm, tomorrow. He runs the ranch.”
“How is he handling your illness?”
“Not well. Everyone around here acts as if this were the land of the walking dead. I hate it. I want my life back.” Finally, as if she’d run out of steam, Sunny flopped onto the love seat. “You’ve looked at my medical records. What do you think?”