“Is he all right, do you know?” Amanda asked.
There was a crackling sound at the other end of the line, the sound of Charlie shuffling some papers.
“They wouldn’t say much, in fact they’d only talk to me at all because I happen to know one of the nurses there and I managed to sweet talk her, but it sounds like he’s stable. He has quite severe injuries, but the operation on his punctured lung was a success and he’d just regained consciousness by the time I’d got them to talk to me.”
“So he’s not going to… you know?”
“Amanda, I can’t promise you anything, but from what I’ve heard he sounds like he’ll recover, given time.”
She breathed a sigh of relief. Despite their recent argument she couldn’t help but still have feelings for him. She might not feel particularly inclined to see him, but she would never wish him dead.
“Are you going to visit him Charlie?”
“I would… But what with everything that’s happened here recently, I can’t take time off. We’re already down too many members of staff. Thank God Patrick’s back today, and I never thought I’d say that! I just can’t at the moment. Besides I don’t think I’m exactly in his good books at the moment”.
Amanda wondered briefly whether the string of excuses was for her benefit or whether they were Charlie’s way of assuaging his guilt at not driving down to see Max.
“Me?” she replied, “We broke up, Charlie. He was on his way to see this Tina person…”
She could feel the bitterness rise up inside her. No sooner had she walked out on him then he’d jumped straight in his car to see the woman he’d sworn no longer meant anything to him.
“I don’t think that he went to see her exactly…”
“You don’t have to skirt the issue Charlie, he told me all about the baby. But whatever you say I don’t believe that he doesn’t still harbour feelings for Tina. Have you heard the way he talks about her?”
“Yes”. She heard him sighing. “But I’ve heard him talk about you too”.
“Not the same way”.
For a moment she thought Charlie was actually stupid enough to keep lying, to keep pretending what they all knew wasn’t the truth. But he let the matter drop, and she was grateful for that at least.
“I’m sure he’d like a visitor anyway. I can’t get down, nor can any of the other staff, and Duffy’s in no fit state to travel”.
“I told him Charlie, if he wants me, if he really intends to make our relationship work, all he has to do is call me. It still goes. I’m not going down there just to see that he’s made up with Tina.”
She bit down on her lip trying to force her voice not to waver and give Charlie a clue about how much it was hurting her to be so brutal. However much it hurt she knew it was for the best. She couldn’t spend the rest of her life living in Tina’s shadow, knowing that she was only ever going to be his second choice.
“Well, it’s up to you of course. I’m sorry it hasn’t worked out between you two, and that I’m partly responsible”.
“You were the catalyst Charlie, not the cause. Look, I’m going to be late for work if I don’t get going. Thanks for telling me about the accident”.
“No problem, I thought you’d want to know. I’ll keep you informed.”
She phone’s handset clattered as she placed it back on the hook, and she realised that hands were shaking; an involuntary reaction to what was going through her mind. Her relationship with Max Gallagher was over, and even though she knew it was for the best, she still felt empty inside.
“Can we see him now?” Tina clasped Sean’s hand for support as she addressed Max’s doctor, Rob Markson.
He smiled as warmly as his tired face would allow. “Certainly. But of course Mr Gallagher is rather tired, he won‘t be up to much talking. He should be getting some rest really”.
Tina nodded and delivered her own tentative smile as she took a step closer to the side room’s door. “Sean, are you coming?”
“In a minute, I just want a word with the doc” He let go of her hand, giving it a tiny squeeze first though and watched as she wandered into Max’s room.
Rob waited until Tina had pushed the door shut behind her before speaking, “You wanted a word?”
“Yeah, look, about what you said earlier, I told Tina and I think everything will be OK now, so I just wanted to say thanks for listening to me” He held out his hand for the older man to shake, which he did with a surprisingly strong grip.
“That’s quite alright, good to feel useful! So what are your plans now? If you don’t mind my asking?”
“I’m not sure. Max is coming round, and the message I left with his colleagues should gain him a few visitors… Tina’s happy that I’m Dawn’s dad, so maybe we could go back to Oz now, see if I still have a job after the way I practically ran out on them! I’ve been given another chance, I’m not going to waste it” He grinned, although the grin quickly turned into a yawn, and he covered his mouth apologetically. “Sorry, it’s been a long night”.
“Tell me about it” Rob replied dryly, forcing himself not to give in to his own urge to yawn. “Anyway, I’ve got a few things I must attend to before my shift ends, but good luck. I hope you and your family are very happy together”.
“Thanks. For everything. Bye.”
The doctor moved off to see to his ward and Sean went over the door of Max‘s room. He could see through the small window that she was talking earnestly to Max, and decided that his presence was unlikely to be necessary. Inside the room Tina turned slightly and caught sight of him, beckoning him in; he shook his head, mouthed ‘I’ll wait out here’ and turned away.
“Tina?” Max could barely speak, his words rasped along his throat, still sore from the necessary intubation.
“Ssssh now. Don’t try to talk”.
“What…?” His brow was furrowed in confusion and more than a little pain.
“You crashed your car. You had rather a lucky escape by all accounts, but you’ll be alright now”.
She paused in her explanation to give the facts a little tie to sink in. She could see his lips trying to form words although the breath that would make them audible was not forthcoming. With a tremendous effort he managed to lick his lips and closed his eyes for a few seconds to compose himself.
Tina waited patiently for him to continue, her nursing experience telling her that although he shouldn’t be speaking he would try nevertheless and it would be easier for him if she didn’t interrupt of fuss about him in the meantime; however tempting the thought might be.
She raised her hand to his forehead, feeling the clamminess of his skin brought on by his exertion, and stroked brow gently. He felt her hand run softly across his face and his mind automatically flitted back to when they were together; to that first exhilarated kiss beneath the parachute canopy after their charity jump, and all the others that followed, passionate or tender.
He knew in that moment that he had been foolish to think that his desire to drive to London had been solely for the sake of meeting his daughter. He had wanted to see Tina, to try to win her back now that it was clear that she and Sean weren’t meant to be.
Just having her sit by him made him realise how much he’d missed her. No one had made him feel like she did. Not Joan even in the first weeks of their relationship, not Duffy in the excitement of their affair, and most painfully not Amanda - the woman with the unenviable task of living up to his memory of Tina.
Briefly he wondered where Amanda was, thinking of her for the first time since regaining consciousness, but even in his fog-filled head he could remember their argument, and it suddenly made sense to him. Amanda had seen what he himself had been trying not to admit to. She had known that he still had feelings for Tina. She knew and that was why she walked out; and why he’d let her.
Regardless of what might happen with Tina, it was over between him and Amanda. She was a poor substitute for Tina, like her son Ben was a poor substitute for his own boy Frank.
Summoning up his strength, he tried to explain himself to Tina. “I came… t’see you…”
“I know you did. And I know why too. Charlie told you about my daughter Dawn, and how I wondered if she might be yours”.
Tina paused, and he nodded, the almost imperceptible movement giving little indication of how desperately he wanted it to be true.
She could see that he was waiting for her to continue, and that there was a glimmer of hope shinning in his eyes about what she’d say next. Tina hoped that the sentences forming in her mind would sound less blunt when said aloud. She rubbed his upper arm as though that could somehow soften the blow.
“While you were unconscious we found out your blood group, there’s no way that you’re her father. She’s Sean’s. I always thought she was. That’s why I told Charlie not to tell you…”
Looking at his pale face she was sure that she could see a hundred questions waiting to be asked, but that he couldn’t articulate. She squeezed his shoulder affectionately trying to gauge how much more she could tell him before he needed to rest properly.
“I only told Charlie, because… well, it was a misunderstanding really, when I heard about Duffy’s husband’s death at first I thought the newspaper was talking about you, I was… concerned. Sean and I were apart and I needed someone to confide to, Charlie’s a good listener. But he wasn’t supposed to tell you, and now Sean and I are back together… I’m sorry Max”.
She could see his eyes take on the watery appearance that signalled that tears would follow. A lump came to her throat to see him in such physical and emotional pain.
“I’m sorry that it’s not what you wanted to hear, and I’m even more sorry that because of me you ended up in this place. If there’s anything I can do…?”
He blinked, trying to halt the flow of tears before they inevitably started. His whole body ached from the accident, but having to listen to Tina yet again choose Sean over him was in many ways more painful still. And the baby, he couldn’t help but see her as another child taken away from him.
His voice was so much of a whisper that she barely heard him.
She leant closer, and he could almost feel her warmth, the touch of her smooth skin. The subtle scent of her perfume filled his mind and he nearly couldn’t bring himself to send her away, but he knew that she only stayed out of pity and he wanted her to stay out of love.
“If that’s what you want” she straightened, picked her bag up from the floor and stood, “I’ll be back to check on you later then”.
“No. Go…with Sean…go”.
Even though his voice was barely more than a hoarse growl the effect on Tina was as if he had shouted the words. His eyes, his whole expression told her in no uncertain terms that she was no longer welcome at his bedside.
“I really am sorry”.
His expression softened and he tried to nod once more. “Please”.
“OK. Goodbye Max”.
Hitching her bag onto her shoulder she saw Max give in to the urge to sleep; his eyes closing and his breathing becoming slightly more regular now the pressure to speak was gone. In a movement born of a mixture of affection and guilt, Tina leant back over the bed one last time and brushed a light kiss against cheek, then turned and left him as he’d requested.
Even when he heard the sound of the door closing he didn’t open his eyes. He was too tried, but moreover he knew that all there would be to see was an empty room. The truth hit him with a force comparable to the car crash; Tina didn’t want him, Amanda had left him. He was completely alone, and no one saw the tear that slipped down his cheek.
Sean saw Tina coming out of Max’s room from his position by the payphones. Even from a distance he could see she was upset, and gave her time to pull a tissue from the depths of her handbag and wipe her eyes before he went over to her.
“How is he?”
Tina sniffed, and took a deep breath. “He’s sleeping now. I told him all about Dawn though”.
“What did he say?”
“Not much. I think he was disappointed, but it’s over now. Everyone knows where they stand at least”.
That in itself was a strangely comforting thought. After the complications in each of their relationships with each other, it felt reassuring to know that finally it was all settled. They could start to look to the future rather than dwell on the past.
Sean pulled his wife into an embrace, kissing her hair softly, letting her relax in his arms. “I phoned your Mum. Dawn’s a little grizzly this morning but otherwise all right. I think it’s time to get back to her… Unless you want to stay with Max a bit longer”.
He hoped she’s say no, but was determined not to live up to his unreasonable reputation. She pulled slowly, reluctantly away from him.
“No, he doesn’t want me here, and I can’t see any reason to stay. Someone from Holby will be down soon enough, Charlie told me that Max had a girlfriend when I was up there the other day, she’ll probably be along any minute. Besides we’re needed elsewhere - Actually I was wondering, now everything is settled, perhaps it’s time to fly back home?”
“Home?” he replied hopefully, “To Alice Springs?”
“Where else? It is our home. The Maddox family home, and that is, after all, who we are: the Maddox family. Sounds good, don’t you think?”
“Sounds excellent, Mrs Maddox! Let’s go collect our daughter, and book a couple of seats on the next flight out”. He held his arm out horizontally and Tina locked hers around it as the set off side by side. “There is just one little thing that’s bothering me though Tina…”
“What’s that?” she replied, trying not to sound nearly as worried as she was, although her fears were allayed when she noticed he was still grinning his boyish grin.
“Do you think your Mum could lend us the cash for the plane fare…?”