"So, do we have any idea who he is yet?"
The gathered staff shook their heads at their Surgical Registrar in almost perfect unison. Robert Markson sighed impatiently as he checked the paperwork for his patient in preparation for taking him up to theatre.
"We couldn't find any ID at the scene, maybe his wallet was locked in the boot of the car or something…" mused a petite young paramedic with raven black hair, and a very grimy face.
"You didn't think to check, Lucy?"
"I had other things on my mind Rob, like trying to get the man out alive. It might have escaped your notice but it was a seventeen car pile-up on the M4. We worked fast and didn't prat about waiting for introductions!" Her pale blue eyes glinted, betraying a fiery temper that seemed at odds with her appearance.
Robert paced toward Lucy, frowning at her anger but not rising to the bait. He knew her far too well for that. "I wasn't getting at you love, sorry" He placed a gentle kiss on her grubby forehead.
She relaxed her stance slightly, aware that she was know the centre of everyone's attention. "Don't they all have work to do?" she whispered.
Robert turned around, but before he could say anything the other staff had miraculously found things they could be getting on with. He turned back to Lucy. "Not my department, not my problem. Surely you have better things to do than standing about giving me grief? An ambulance to clean or something?"
She prodded him viciously in the chest with her index finger. "You'll keep matey".
"Is that a promise?"
Ignoring him, she turned on her heel, shouting back through the swing doors as she left the room "You're an arrogant wotsit, you are. Can't imagine why I love you".
Smiling to himself despite the situation he returned to the patient and helped the nurses load the monitoring equipment onto the trolley. "I suppose this is one for the police then. They should be able to chase up the car's registration details. Eventually. 'Til then he's John Smith".
"Well off we go then…" he pushed the trolley out of the bay and started on his way to the second floor's theatre suite.
"Hang on Mr Markson" chirruped a junior nurse who had been foraging among the remains of the patient's cut away clothing, "there's something here…"
He let go of the side of the trolley and darted back to the young nurse. She held the folded piece of paper out and Robert took it, unfolding it as he brought it closer to his face. "Well done nurse, we might not know who he is, but we know he knows a Tina, at 47 Chatsworth Terrace, London." He handed it back and jogged out of the room, calling out as he went, "Take this out to Madge on the desk, see if we can get a lead".
Tina rolled over in her bed, unconsciously trying to reconcile her need for a comfortable night's sleep, and her desire to keep Sean close. It was only the second night she had spent with him since they'd made up, and whilst she believed that he meant everything he'd said to her about their future she felt the need to be reassured that he was still a part of her life.
She was awakened by the sound of a telephone ringing, and two seconds later Dawn joined in by bawling loudly in protest to her sleep being interrupted. Tina kicked Sean under the blanket, trying to wake him to persuade him to deal with the cacophony but, if he felt her attack at all, he made no sign of waking. Reluctantly she slid out from the warm of the bed, and padded barefoot across the hall to the room that had been designated as the nursery for the duration of their stay in London. Halfway across she was intercepted by her mother, looking bleary eyed and trying to knot the belt on her kimono style robe as she went.
"I'll get the phone if you'll get the baby" she whispered conspiratorially as she made her way down the stairs. Tina shrugged, too tired to care much about any idiot who would be phoning at such an ungodly hour at night.
She had just picked Dawn up, and was slowly rocking her back and forth when she heard her mother call her name in that sort of throaty shout that tries to be both respectfully quiet and usefully loud at the same time. Tina, still gently cradling her baby, wandered curiously down the stairs to where her mother stood, hand clasped across the mouthpiece of the telephone.
"Who is it?"
"It's a hospital, St. Jude's in Slough. Who do you know in Slough?"
"What?" Tina tried to balance her daughter on her hip so she could wipe some of the sleep from her eyes.
"Just take the call darling, I'll hold onto Dawn".
Still only half awake, Tina handed Dawn over and took the receiver. "Hello? Who is this?"
"My name is Madge Davies, I'm the head receptionist at St. Jude's Hospital. I'm trying to track down the relatives of a Mr Max Gallagher…"
"Max?!" Tina interrupted, aware of the phone trembling by her ear, "What's happened? Is he alright?"
A hundred unpleasant scenarios fluttered through her mind. And her thoughts were pushed back to the same state they had endured when she'd mistaken Duffy's husband's death for Max's a few days earlier. She started to panic.
"There was an RTA on the M4 a few hours ago. Mr Gallagher's car has been identified, although the man rescued from it has no identification on him. He's still unconscious. However, among his belongings we found a scrap of paper with the name Tina on it and your address"
"I don't understand…" The receptionist's words were jumbling together in Tina's head and she had to use all her concentration to make sense of them. "Max has had an accident?"
Out of the corner of her eye, Tina could see her mother shoot her questioning glances, but she refused to meet her gaze and instead turned further toward the wall, closing her eyes so that she could focus herself on what she was being told.
"Yes, Ms… Seabrook, was it?"
"Yeah. No. Maddox." She rubbed her forehead with her free hand in an effort to manually clear her thoughts, "Is he OK?"
"Mr Gallagher is currently in surgery, but he is in the best possible hands. Are you a relation, Ms Maddox?"
"No I'm not." The moment the words had passed her lips she found herself thinking of Dawn, of whether she was their blood tie, and of what would happen if Max died; she forced her mind to change the subject. "I just want to know what's happened, that's all" Her last words caught in her throat and she could feel her tears welling up.
"There really isn't anything more that I can tell you. Look, I'm sorry to have to ask you this, but we really need to contact Mr Gallagher's next of kin. Do you know anything that could help?"
Next of kin. She thought of Frank and his tragic death, and felt a shiver run along her spine. Max had no other relatives that she could think of, or at least none that Tina knew how to contact. Charlie had mentioned that Max had been seeing someone but getting in touch with her would be impossible without his help.
"I might be able to track down his girlfriend, but I can't give you any details now" She felt guilty; she wanted to help. Part of her also wanted to rush to his bedside, but a greater part knew that it would only complicate matters. She and Max weren't an item any longer, nor did she want them to be deep down, but she still cared for him. She focused on how Dawn and Sean were her family now; involving herself with Max again, in any capacity, could potentially ruin things between the three of them.
"I see. Well, I'm sorry for disturbing you at such an hour Ms Maddox"
"That's OK, but will you call me when he comes out of surgery please?"
"I'll see what I can do" the receptionist replied in a non-committal but genuinely sympathetic tone.
"Thanks" Tina hung up the phone feeling physically drained. The interruption of her sleep was no doubt a huge factor in this but it was also partly due to the roller coaster of emotions she'd been faced with for the last few days, and indeed the months before that. In the last twenty-four hours everything had started to come together for her, lulled her into a false sense of security she thought sourly, only for this to happen and send her mind reeling again.
Her mother was talking to her, and Tina tried to pull herself together enough to listen.
"Tina, I heard you talk about a 'Max'. Is that Max Gallagher?"
Mary's question surprised Tina. She imagined that at some point in the last three years she'd mentioned Max, but she'd certainly never gone into any detail about their relationship or mentioned him by name since she'd been back in England. She stared quizzically at her mother.
"Yeah, that's right how did you…?"
"Only he called for you earlier" Mary interrupted. "Said he'd drive down after his shift ended to surprise you".
"Did he?" Tina asked under her breath. He couldn't have known she was back unless Charlie had spilt the proverbial beans, and if Charlie had told him, he would probably have mentioned Dawn too.
She suddenly felt alert. During the telephone conversation she'd been too tired and too shocked to question why she was the one being informed of Max's accident, or why Max would be driving along the M4 in the middle of the night. Now it was clear. The hospital must have found her address in his belongings.
Tina brushed her hair back off her face, as the implications of Max's visit became apparent. He wanted to see Dawn; he wanted to know if he could be her father… But now he wasn't coming. Immediately she berated herself for thinking such a thing. He'd been hurt, and hurt badly, and indirectly it had been her own fault.
"Darling, are you feeling quite alright, you look pale?"
Tina didn't answer. Her gaze was resting on Dawn: the source of so much joy and pride, and simultaneously the source of so much pain and confusion. When - not 'if', 'if' wasn't an option she cared to entertain - Max came round from his surgery he'd still want to know the truth. He wouldn't accept that both Tina and Sean were happy to keep the status quo.
"What's going on?"
Tina hadn't even noticed Sean's arrival in the hallway, dressed in a T-shirt and boxer shorts, his dark eyes barely visible behind his tangled hair. After a second of silence she forced herself to meet his gaze.
"Max Gallagher was on his way to see us, but he's had an accident. He's in hospital, and I really think we should go and see him".
Josh Griffiths drummed impatiently on the steering wheel of his car as he waited outside the hospital for Colette to come off shift. She was taking her time, and he didn't like that. Not because he wanted to control her movements, or even because he had anywhere better to be, but because it gave him an opportunity to think. It was always the same with him. If he let himself think it too hard about any given course of action he invariably talked himself out of it on the grounds that it was stupid and he'd end up getting hurt. He was much happier to launch in feet first and deal with any problems as and when they arose.
On this particular occasion he wanted to tell Colette that he loved her. Or perhaps that was too strong a word to use; he cared for her. That was better. Natalie wouldn't make a difference to him. Or not a big difference. Or at least not a bad difference. His drumming picked up pace. He hadn't felt so nervous in years. But then he hadn't tried to ask out a woman in years either.
He saw the automatic doors open for the thirty-seventh time since he'd been sitting there and Colette stepped out into the forecourt. Josh opened his car door and jogged up to her, concentrating hard on not showing his nervousness.
"Hello. What're you doing here?"
"I thought I could give you a lift home. If you wanted one?"
She smiled. "I drove in today, so I don't need one - but thanks for asking".
"Oh well, I'll walk you to your car then".
"Josh was there something you wanted?" She had her hands on her hips as she stared wide-eyed at him, clearly trying to work out just what had got into him.
He paused, and in his imagination he pictured himself grabbing her and kissing her passionately like the stars do in the movies, but his confidence let him down at the last second. He decided that honesty would be the more practical option.
"It's about Natalie".
Her face fell. His comments had put her on her guard. "What about her?"
"It's just finding out about her like I did, without any warning, it was… well, it was a shock. But I realise that you had your reasons for everything, and I want us to still be friends".
"Friends?" He thought he could see a glimmer of playfulness return to her eyes.
"Yeah. And maybe we could go out to dinner sometime to seal our friendship?"
"Sounds lovely" Her smile was back, and she reached out to his arm, linking hers around it so he could walk her to where her car was parked.
A minute later and they were standing next to the car, though Colette seemed reluctant to let go of Josh's arm. Not that he minded in the least.
"Coming here tonight was an… erm… sweet thing to do Josh. I appreciate it". Quick as a flash she reached up and kissed him on the cheek.
"Well, er, it's, erm, my pleasure!"
She grinned at his flustered countenance before composing herself so she could carry on with what she wanted to say. "Look, Josh, I know that I handled things badly. I should have told you about Natalie when I asked you about your family, but it was difficult. I've never forgotten Natalie, I couldn't, and I didn't want to, but I never truly believed she turn up in my life again. I've found it easier to keep her existence to myself, it's easier to cope if I don't have to face everybody's questions, or worse, their judgements".
"I wouldn't have judged you".
"I know that now. Anyway, I don't think Natalie is really very interested in getting to know me anyway. She came to see me out of curiosity; she's got her own family now".
The hurt that this knowledge caused her was written across her face, and Josh instinctively pulled her closer to him. She wrapped her arms around his waist.
"You are her family. Even though you haven't really got to know each other yet, it doesn't mean you won't. Family is important Colette, I know that, you know that, and Natalie will realise it soon. You know what they say, blood's thicker than water. Give her time".
He could feel her nodding against his chest, and eventually, after a comfortable silence, she pulled away so she could look at him properly.
"But is it? Her adoptive mother is the one she calls Mum. The one she turns to. The one who was there for her all the time she was growing up. Blood or not, I can't compete with that, can I?" Josh watched helplessly as Colette's eyes filled with tears. He wanted to tell her that everything would definitely be all right, but he knew as well as any man could how unrealistic that platitude was.
"I wish there was something I could do to help".
"You help just by being here. Being here, in a hospital car park at two 'o'clock in the morning just to hear me moan!" She sniffed, then smiled, wiping the back of her hand across her eyes. "I'm a very lucky woman" And with that, she brought her hands up to his face, and guided his lips to meet with hers.
Sean hung up the pay phone for the second time. His first time was to call Mary to inform her, as she asked him to, that he and Tina had reached St. Jude's in one piece. The second call was to the A&E department of Holby City Hospital, where he'd left a message for Charlie about Max's condition. He had been glad that he hadn't had to speak directly to Charlie, he wasn't certain that he'd have been able to keep his temper.
On their drive down the almost deserted motorway Tina had been kind enough to inform Sean of her trip to Holby, her conversation with Charlie, and explain about Max's accident. During this monologue Sean had remained virtually silent. There was little he felt he could say. He couldn't blame Tina for visiting Max under the circumstances, nor could he in all honesty blame Max for tearing down the motorway to find out the truth. He could, however, blame Charlie, and directed all his anger in that direction. It was the only way he could stay calm with Tina. The last thing he wanted to do was throw a tantrum about being woken up in the middle of the night to see Tina's ex in hospital, and risk losing his new found happiness with her.
He strolled across the ward to where Tina was force feeding a drinks machine with small change.
"He wasn't there, I left a message. Oh and your Mum says that Dawn's settled down again now".
She retrieved the small, steaming plastic cup and turned to face her husband. "Thanks for doing that. You want a drink?"
Sean watched her take a sip of her liquid, and gauging by her reaction, decided against it. He was just about to reply when there was a sudden commotion around the doors and a trolley appeared surrounded by nurses and porters. Tina hurriedly handed her drink to Sean and jogged across to the side room they were wheeling the trolley to.
"Max?" she called, although she knew he'd be in no fit state to answer her.
One of the nurses turned around at the sound of Tina's voice and shepherded her into the corner of the room as the others fixed the relevant equipment into place. "OK love, you just wait here a sec while we get him sorted".
Tina nodded absently at the remark, trying to stare past the motherly nurse at the patient. Even from such an awkward position she could still make out Max's distinctive features, although he looked unnaturally pale and still. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the other nurse and the porters leave the room and Sean arriving with a young male doctor in tow.
"Mr and Mrs Maddox, this is Mr Markson, he's the Registrar of this ward, he'll be able to answer your questions about Mr Gallagher's condition".
Robert cleared his throat and shook hands with his visitors. "I'm not sure how much you've been told, but Mr Gallagher was involved in a very serious RTA, that's a road traffic accident, approximately five hours ago. He has a great many minor injuries that will heal in due course, he also suffered some trauma to the chest. He has several broken ribs and one of them punctured his left lung. That's what we've been operating on." He paused to give them some time to take in what they were saying, before continuing. "The operation was a success, but it would be unprofessional of me to say that Mr Gallagher's recovery is guaranteed. We'll continue to monitor him, of course. He's still under anaesthetic at the moment, he won't come round until later today. To be honest I think you two should probably get some rest and come back later."
Sean waited for Tina to speak, but she seemed disinclined to say anything. She bore the same bewildered expression that he'd seen a hundred friends and relatives wear when a doctor spoke to them. It was as though she had forgotten all of her medical knowledge. He felt that he should take the initiative and ask some detailed questions about exactly what injuries Max had and what his prognosis was, but Tina's expression suggested that more details were the last things she needed.
"Thank you Mr Markson, but I think we'll stay here a little longer. Right Tina?"
"Yeah" She faced Sean and attempted an appreciative smile, "Thanks".
"Well that's really up to the ward Sister not me…" his sentence was cut off by the insistent bleeping of his pager. "Sorry". He looked at its tiny screen "I'm needed in A&E. But if you need anything I'm sure Nurse Robbins here will help".
The motherly nurse nodded as Robert left. "Do you need anything?"
"No thanks we're fine" Sean answered as she followed the doctor out of the door, closing it behind her.
With only himself and Tina now left visiting, Max's presence seemed greater somehow. Tina robotically moved to sit on the chair by his bedside, her attention completely absorbed by his prone body.
Sean hovered at the end of the bed. He knew that it was downright stupid, but he could feel his jealousy toward Max bubble to the surface again. With his washed out pallor and ill fitting hospital gown Max suddenly looked so old, and frail; a million miles away from Sean's youthful looks. Yet still Sean was jealous that Max had the power to call Tina to his bedside, to practically ignore her own husband.
The whole scene grated on him. He could feel his composure steadily ebbing away. Here he was, indulging his wife with a bedside vigil of her ex boyfriend. The word 'boyfriend' triggered something in his mind, and he remembered that he could very well be more than that. He could be that father of her child. A part of her life forever. He started to feel physically sick. It was the same sort of sick he'd felt when he'd found he'd failed his exams. The sickness of someone who'd not only come so close to succeeding only to fail at the last hurdle, but then to have his nosed rubbed in it by another.
He didn't want to think about it, but there was nothing else in the room to concentrate on except Max's body and Tina's watchful gaze over it. He picked up the notes hung over the end of the bed, working on the basis that reading them might get him into his professional state of mind and might allow him to tune out all the unpleasant thoughts he was having about losing his family.
The scribbles and forms that made up the notes would have flummoxed a lay person but Sean knew exactly what he was looking at. He tried to bury himself in the technical details. How many milligrams of analgesia, how much anaethetic. Two units of O neg, cross matched for a further two of A…
Something struck him; he wasn't sure what it was at first and he re-read the notes to try to pin it down.
One little letter, but he knew now its significance. He knew who Dawn's father was.
Go to Part Eight