AN- Thanking you all for your wonderful reviews, messages and alerts. I'm sorry I couldn't get this chapter out any sooner. My recent schedule had allowed very little time to write and this chapter took some time to put together even though I knew where I wanted it to go.
I hope you like it, and rest assured the following chapter is already in progress... Enjoy!
Chapter 21: Mirror On The Wall.
Christopher watched Andy walk away and yet he remained firmly rooted to the spot. Several thoughts were spinning around his mind in such frenzy, that he could not grasp hold of a single one in order to make a decision about what to do next.
He wanted his uncle.
Only seconds had passed, but it was long enough to see his Andy walk further away from him. As he stood and watched, Christopher was conscious that he was trembling, and his heart was pounding in his chest at an alarming rate. He felt the walls closing in on him, and the adrenaline rushing around his body demanding that he make a decision. Even though he wasn't a medic, Christopher recognised the symptoms as a panic attack simply because of all the times he'd experienced them as a child. He lost count of the number of times he would literally pass out, due to his inability to allow oxygen to enter his lungs in a normal fashion. His aunt would always encourage him to focus on his breathing, stroking his hair and whispering gentle words of reassurance. But not his uncle. 'Grab the bull by the horns,' he would say. 'Deal with it. Don't let it control you, you control it.'
He watched as his sister hurried along the corridor, determined to get as far away from him as possible, and as much as he wanted to run after her, to stop her from walking away he did not. He called out loudly instead: "You don't have to run away from me. I'm not going to stop you from leaving!"
Immediately Christopher stopped trembling, and he felt his heart rate begin to slow down.
Andy stopped, halted by the sound of his voice and words but still did not turn around. For a moment she had to remind herself to breathe. In and out. In and out.
She wanted her dad.
Without warning, anger mounted in Christopher's chest at her behaviour. Sure things were complicated, but running away never really simplified things. A problem never solved itself just because a person chose not to be there; generally it tended to make things much worse.
That was something else his uncle had told him.
Christopher knew why she had done it. Run. It was a trait he had inherited too amongst other foibles. For a brief moment he wondered which parent they had inherited from.
"Do you know..." he asked, in a voice that sounded resentful. "Do you know why you are even here tonight? Why bother with your half baked attempts at caring?"
Christopher watched Andy's shoulders slump, but he continued on regardless, as he grabbed his symbolic bull by the horns.
"I'm not going to stop you even if I wanted to. The most important person in the world to me might die, and right now I need to be with him."
Andy turned suddenly to face Christopher, only to see that he had already walked away. She squeezed her eyes shut and blinked a few times not truly grasping the situation. She concentrated on breathing, knowing she had to get it together before she left the confines of the hospital. Taking a deep breath, she made her way outside and sat on a bench, relishing in the bitter cold. Her eyes were focussed on nothing in particular, and in the distance the sirens of an ambulance was pleasantly soothing.
Under normal circumstances, Andy wouldn't have bothered him, especially at that time of night. But she had to speak to Sam. Grabbing her phone, Andy dialled his number, her hands incapable of working its keys with dexterity. When she finally managed to hit the right numbers, she held her breath at the first ring. She had no idea what she was going to say.
"Hey," Andy said softly as she heard the line connect.
"Andy, where are you?" Sam whispered back sleepily. "And why are we whispering?"
"Can you meet me down here, Sam? You won't understand if you don't see it for yourself."
"Where are you? Are you working more overtime?"
"No. I'm at St. Mark's."
"The church?" Sam asked in surprise.
"Are you okay? Are you hurt?" Worry laced her partner's voice and Andy smiled slightly as she imagined him sitting up in bed alarmed. He was so protective of her, and was even more so now that he and her were together.
"I'm not hurt Sam. I just need you, please."
"I'll be there in twenty minutes," he said quickly, already pulling on his jeans while they spoke.
They both sat in a tense silence once Andy had told Sam why she was at the hospital.
"Well, say something," she urged.
"What can I say? You made me leave a warm bed so you could tell me that you visited a man who isn't worth your concern," he said coolly as he stood up and placed his back against a wall.
Inhaling deeply, Andy quelled her temper and looked towards the sound of two chattering nurses exiting the building, most likely ending their shift for the night.
"That's not fair. You don't know that," she told Sam.
"Neither do you," Sam shot back. "Not really."
Pushing herself to her feet, Andy moved and stood beside him, waiting patiently for Sam to continue. She couldn't mess this conversation up; she didn't want to lose him. The bitter wind tossed a strand of hair across her eyes, but she didn't move to brush it back. She just waited.
Stubbornly, Sam refused to acknowledge her presence, and stared at his truck parked haphazardly in an ambulance bay. He just needed to absorb the situation, and he was a little too shell shocked to shout. He hated to argue with Andy about this topic, probably as much as she did. He wasn't willing to fight about it. So they both stood and waited.
Sam could not maintain the oppressive silence much longer. He fixed his eyes on the building across the street, and in a low voice, said, "You promised me, Andy. You promised me you wouldn't see him again. Not after everything that happened, especially with Boyd."
Andy searched his expression and found mainly disapproval and concern. Although he tried to mask it there was anger behind his eyes, when his resolved finally cracked and he looked at her.
"No Andy, things are good...great and I just don't understand why all this is starting up again."
"You asked me to choose, to make a choice and I chose you."
"Did you choose me? So what are you doing here...exactly?"
"Come and talk to the doctors with me. Let them explain what I am talking about."
"Andy…" he said, in a tone that was pained. He left the rest unspoken.
She tried to ignore the tug in her heart at hearing his distress, spurred on by the need to try to make Sam understand what she was feeling.
"Okay...we don't have to talk to the doctors. You can go and take a look for yourself. He's in room twelve."
Sam scoffed. "The only thing that would make me see him is if I could take a picture; show the world he's dead...well almost dead," he revised. He spoke slowly, almost salivating at the prospect
Sam saw the flash of hurt across Andy's face, and instantly felt like a bastard, for upsetting her.
He took a step forward, but Andy stopped him and shook her head. "I get that you don't care about him, but I kind of thought you cared about me."
Sam halted, and stared at her thoughtfully. Andy matched his intensity, and did not budge. She was right. He didn't give a damn about Anton and they both knew that. His gaze dropped to the floor between them then, suddenly unclear of what to do next. He has no idea what else she expected him to say or do.
"I think he's going to die Sam," Andy whispered, as she dug her hands into her coat pocket. "All my past, will be lost once he takes his last breath."
Startled by the raw emotions in her voice, he turned her body to face him, watching her questionably.
"He's really sick, you wouldn't recognise him. I really don't know what else to say to you except I tried to stay away, but I had to see him. I would never forgive myself if I didn't take the chance to try and put things right. It was the right thing to do, and I'm glad he knew I came because although he wouldn't say it, I know he was hurting."
Sam had felt the strength and sincerity in her words and as much as he detested Hill, her words had moved him.
"I'm so sorry this is affecting you," Sam spoke. And he genuinely was.
Andy nodded once. "I'll get over it."
He wasn't so sure that she would.
"But this is never going to work if you don't trust me, Sam. Seeing him tonight doesn't change the way I feel about you. You must know that by now," she said finally.
Sam rested the back of his head against the wall and let out a deep breath in response. His body language spoke volumes, and at times it was easier for Andy to focus on all the things he was not verbalising to really understand him.
"I'll do anything to make our relationship work, Sam. But sometimes...just sometimes things are not always black and white. They're shades of grey and there are other things to consider in all of this than just you and me."
Andy couldn't believe she was using Anton's words, but right then they had never rung so true.
Sam looked at his partner and considered her comments. He really did, and tried to reply with the same honesty.
"I'm worried, Andy," he admitted. "I'm worried that I'll wake up one day and never see you again because you've chosen them. If that's what you're going to do then let me know."
Andy sighed, and flicked her hair out of her eyes with her hand. "I'm not going anywhere or doing anything without you, Sam. That's why I asked you here tonight. I meant it when I said I chose you. I chose you Sam Swarek, I chose you."
The corners of Sam's mouth curled upward in a smile that melted her. Maybe he wasn't so angry and disappointed after all
"So, what now, you're going to keep visiting him?" Sam asked calmly.
Andy sighed silently and leaned against the same wall. "I don't know. No. Maybe," she shrugged.
Desperate for some contact, Andy reached over, lacing her fingers within his own. He squeezed her hand gently, and she felt her eyes fill.
"Don't be mad," she whispered as she leaned into him. "Don't be mad." She pressed her forehead against his shoulder.
The tears were coming a bit faster now and she wanted to turn away. To turn away and run, but she couldn't. This was Sam. Her Sam.
"Shhh." He stepped forward and embraced her. "Don't cry..."
"Don't be mad," she uttered once more, before she broke down, giving in and wrapping her arms around him as well. Burying her head in his chest, she held on to him for all she was worth, hoping to excise out her pain, and his.
Sam knew he felt threatened by a man who sounded as if he was finally bowing out of this life. This thing between them had been two years coming, in fact it was his whole adult life coming and he wasn't going to let anything screw it up now. Not Anton Hill, not Andy and certainly not himself. If she wanted to visit Hill, he wouldn't stand in her way, there was no point in competing against a dying man.
"Are you ready to go home?" he asked once her crying subsided.
"Yes," Andy murmured, although she hesitated slightly.
"Andy, we need to go," he said holding her hand, and pulling her gently in the direction of his truck.
"My brother's in there Sam," she whispered, nodding towards the hospital entrance.
"That's a good thing right?" he asked.
"Not if you practically run away from him."
Sam pulled a face.
"I didn't want to run... I just panicked and now I've upset him."
"So go and say hi properly."
"Just say hi, give him your number or take his. No one says you have to call each other right away. One step at a time. I'm sure he'll understand. This is what you wanted, don't waste the opportunity."
Andy smiled a watery smile, drawing strength from his words.
"Hurry it up McNally, I want to sleep, and you need to sleep."
"Okay," she whispered, chewing her bottom lip and Sam gently pushed her forwards towards the hospital entrance.
"I'll meet you by the truck."
As she walked away, Sam took a deep breath, proud that he had not screwed things up. Things were still on track. They were still good. They still had a fighting chance.
Andy entered room twelve, and watched as Priscilla and Christopher sat close to Anton's bed. Priscilla acknowledged her presence with a tired and weary smile. Andy could tell this was taking its toll on her.
Christopher, aware of another presence in the room, turned to Andy and looked at her with a familiar set of brown eyes that were as glassy as her own. She reached out and put a hand on his shoulder, and did not remove it.
"I'm sorry about before, Christopher... I..."
Christopher put out his hand to silence her, before he turned away and continued to stare at his uncle.
He tentatively reached up and gave her hand a tight squeeze, and Andy sighed quietly with relief. What surprised her most was he did not let her hand go.
"It's all an act you know...the grumpiness and the menacing attitude. He's a real softy deep down," Christopher said fondly.
"I know," was all Andy managed to say.
Priscilla turned her face away, as she wiped away her tears. Christopher put a free arm around her shoulder in comfort, and turned to face his sister.
"He's the only real father I've ever known, and he's made me into the person I am today. I should have realised something was wrong when he wasn't getting better from the flu. But the stubborn man in him kept going to work every day acting as if everything was normal."
Christopher turned back to the Anton's unconscious form and together they all watched in silence, captivated by the rise and fall of his chest.
"I'm glad you're here Andy, but now really isn't the time," he stated in a direct manner that was similar to Anton.
"No," Andy nodded in agreement, as Priscilla began to object. "It isn't."
She rummaged around in her purse for a business card and placed it on the bed for Christopher to see.
"That's why I came back. Here's my number, we should talk some time... in the future. Keep me updated though...a text will be fine," she added hurriedly.
Christopher simply nodded not once taking his eyes off Anton.
Andy kissed Priscilla on the cheek, and quietly slipped out of the room.
Neither spoke about it again when they got home as there was very little left to say. They both got undressed in silence, moving around the bathroom in complete tandem as Andy brushed her teeth and Sam removed in contact lenses.
They both lay in bed, and Andy pulled the thick blanket to keep them warm and rested her head against his chest. Sam's fingers tangled in her hair and she sighed at the contact. Very soon they both began to relax, and after a few minutes, all that could be heard were the sounds of them sleeping.
The following day at work could be summed up in one word. Busy.
Andy was partnered with Dov, whose relentless energy and constant chatter was enough to lift her mood. Even after they had been sworn at by a group of teenagers, as well as having to clean vomit off their boots, he still managed to find the adventure and excitement in it all.
She guessed it must have been one of those days, as the other officers commented on the craziness of the day that couldn't be attributed to a heat wave. As they commiserated one another at the amount of reports they needed to write up, Andy wanted nothing more but to go home, watch a movie cuddled up with Sam and a cold bottle of beer. She missed working with him. The end of her shift could not come soon enough, she was exhausted.
Andy rinsed out her glass before placing it on the counter. She did the same with the other glasses that were in the sink before moving on to the dirty plates from dinner. She was lost in her own little world, not thinking about anything in particular. Andy hummed to herself as she scrubbed the pots that were used to cook, applying more pressure to a particularly stubborn stain. She couldn't wait to change out of her work clothes. Normally it was the first thing she did when she got home but they had been late leaving work because of all the paperwork, and she had wanted to get dinner started. Andy was certain, Sam had not eaten properly over the last few weeks as she had been picking up more and more overtime, and basically came home to sleep.
"I thought I told you not to lift a finger," a voice whispered in her ear.
She smiled as his warmth breath made her hair, tickle the back of her neck.
"I decided to go ahead and tidy up," she explained, tilting her head to the side so he would brush his lips across her neck.
"I told you I'd get it," Sam reminded, as he breathed in her scent. He slid his arms around her waist, pressing his body closer to her as he kissed her softly.
"I know, but we have a rare day off together tomorrow so I thought I'd make an effort. I actually like household chores so it's no big deal."
"Do you want me to run you a bath?"
"That depends," Andy purred. "Will you be joining me?"
Sam laughed enthusiastically. "I think that was the plan McNally when I purchased the Jacuzzi style bath tub."
"So let me finish up cleaning this mess, and I'm all yours."
Sam kissed her one last time and went to the bathroom. Andy couldn't help but chuckle when she saw he had already slipped off his t-shirt in preparation.
She finished washing the last of the pots and mopped the floor. Emptying the bin, she quickly made her way to put out the trash.
"McNally!" Sam sang from upstairs. "The water's getting cold."
"Coming!" Andy shouted as she quickly went to open the door.
She felt her cell phone vibrate in her back pocket. Juggling the phone under one ear, and lifting the lid off the garbage can she connected the call.
"Hi Andy, It's Christopher." She barely heard him.
"Oh." She dropped the trash on the floor in her surprise at hearing his voice.
It was noisy where he is calling from, but she could still make out his heavy breathing. He sounded like he was crying.
"How is Uncle Anton?" she asked nervously.
"No improvement. He's not responding to the medication, and he hasn't made a sound since yesterday. I left the others there with him. I went for a short walk to clear my head, and somehow I ended up here."
"Where's here?" she asked softly, finally managing to deposit the garbage in the trash can.
"Just some pub. I don't even know its name."
They both remain silent at his revelation. Andy was concentrating on remembering to breathe whilst Christopher played with half an empty bottle of beer, peeling its label off in small strips.
Andy made her way back inside the house and sat at the edge of the settee, unsure of what to say. It was uncomfortable and unfamiliar. She felt she needed to be the one to say something and break the tension. She was the elder sibling, and he rang her looking for something. Andy knew what he really wanted was lying unconscious in a hospital bed. She couldn't tell him not to worry and that everything would be fine because she didn't think it would.
"I think…"Andy said gently, as she lay back against the settee, "... that things will get easier. All of it."
"How?" His voice sounded so lost and desperate to her, and Andy swallowed thickly.
"With time. Time is a great healer. My granny always said that when I was growing up and she was right. Just take each day as it comes."
"I hate time...and space. Two things I am not so good at," he confessed.
"It takes practice, and...time."
Christopher nodded into the phone, and pushed his bottle of beer away. He let the bartender take his unfinished bottle, sliding a ten dollar bill on the bar counter before standing up.
"What are you doing now?" she asked, hearing the rustling sound through her phone.
"Talking to you."
"Other than talking to me."
"I'm going back to the hospital, to drive Tina and Aunty Priscilla home. Ryan and Maury will stay the night. We don't want to leave him alone, in case...he needs to know he's not alone."
It was now Andy's turn to nod into her phone.
"So what are you doing now?" Christopher asked, as he cleared his throat uneasily.
"Bath and bed. In that order. It's been a long day," Andy replied.
"Well...enjoy your rest. Goodnight Andy."
"It's Chris. All my friends and family call me Chris."
He disconnected the call, and Andy sat for a moment contemplating their conversation. She rose to make her way upstairs, leaving a trail of clothes as she made her way to the bathroom. She plastered her award winning smile on her face, pushing through any negative emotions. Her phone beeped to indicate an incoming text message. It was from Christopher and she read its contents.
Simple and straight to the point.
The bathroom is in total darkness accept for several large scented candles which Sam had lit, which gave the room a warm glow. The radio was playing some love song, and Andy laughed softly at Sam's cheesiness.
"Hey," he said in his best sexy voice. "Come on in."
Andy climbed in the tub, and slid backwards, reclining so that her back was against his chest. She enjoyed the warmth on her aching muscles and allowed her fingers to skim the surface of the water. Sam gently caressed her stomach, drawing intricate patterns with his fingertips.
"How are you doing?"
"Okay, I guess... " she answered.
"How about now?" Sam asked as he placed a kiss on her temple.
Andy twisted to face him and smiled a real smile, and then curled her body into him. She enjoyed the feeling of his fingers, which were wrapped around the back on her neck and waist.
"My brother rang."
"Yep. Spoke for a few minutes. It wasn't easy."
Sam waited for Andy to continue but she didn't, opting to bury herself into him further. They spoke about other random things instead. Work, politics, current affairs, the recent winner of 'Canada's Got Talent' and other celebrity gossip. It was nice having some alone time. It had been a while.
Andy and Christopher never spoke again since that night, but she had received four messages from Christopher telling her that there had been no change in Anton's condition. So a few weeks later when he telephoned and asked if she would like to have a meal one evening when she was free, Andy said yes. They had agreed a date several days away, which gave her enough time to get used to the idea that she was finally meeting her baby brother.
Sam had stood cross-armed, leaning against the door frame as he watched Andy walk around the bathroom adjusting her purple chiffon dress. It was a simple design, but with her make-up and accessories he thought she looked beautiful.
She leant forward on the balls of her bare feet, placing a hand flat against the sink as she stared in the mirror and applied her make-up. Her lips glimmered with the faintest hint of lip gloss and a sweep of eye-shadow across her eyelids; as her freshly washed hair hung loose. Andy's dark brown eyes seemed brighter as she carefully added some mascara.
"How do I look?" she asked self-consciously. "It doesn't scream scared as hell right?"
"You look fine," Sam said calmly.
"God! I'm going to screw this up, say something stupid. It's what I do," Andy cried, throwing her arms in the air with frustration.
"Hey...you say dumb stuff to me every day and I still hang around."
"Funny Swarek," Andy deadpanned.
"Yeah, I thought so. Just be yourself Andy. He'll love you."
Christopher didn't understand why he had put cologne on. He didn't know why he had checked his appearance in the mirror six times in the last fifteen minutes, and he couldn't explain why his palms kept becoming clammy at the thought of the next couple of hours. He stared at his appearance in the mirror and took a deep breath. He was nervous. He was nervous to have dinner with his sister. It sounded strange even in his mind. Sister.
He stared at his appearance for the millionth time and changed his shirt for the fifth. Priscilla watched him with amusement. It was the first time she had smiled in the last couple of weeks. She wished her husband was here to see it; he would be over the moon that his niece and nephew were finally meeting.
"Andy won't care what you're wearing sweetie," she said, as Christopher took off his shirt, replacing it with one he had tried on earlier.
"I know but I want to look my best. I've booked a table at La Fourchette. I didn't tell her to dress up. Oh my God! What if she doesn't realise and comes in jeans? She'll hate me!"
Christopher changed his shirt again, finally settling on a pale blue shirt, and matching jumper in darker shade of blue. Priscilla nodded at his choice from where she was perched at the foot of his bed.
"What if she doesn't like French food? She should do right? Maybe I shouldn't have presumed."
He took another deep breath and stared at his aunt for reassurance.
"Look, Chris she'd be happy with a hot dog and a can of coke from what I remember. One thing she doesn't have is airs and graces. What's not to like about French food? Don't worry."
Christopher nodded, staring at his reflection once more.
"Just be yourself sweetheart," Priscilla added.
"It's really happening, isn't it Aunty P?"
"Yes sweetheart just as I promised."
"You are going to see Uncle Anton?" he asked as he chewed his bottom lip with worry.
"Yes, just as soon as I make sure you're alright, and don't pass out from worry," Priscilla teased.
"Good. I'm coming with you to the hospital. I need to tell him that I'm finally meeting her. You didn't tell him did you? I wanted it to be a surprise."
"Christopher," she warned, slightly concerned at the way he spoke about Anton as if he was awake and alert. He hadn't been lucid for a while, and the last few weeks he was unresponsive. He was deteriorating and as much as she was holding on, she found herself rummaging through his papers going over his intricate and carefully constructed contingency plans. She had to hand it to her husband. You would need a PhD from Stanford to decipher his codes.
"But I have to tell him, it's what I would normally do if he was here, and I'm sure he can hear me. The doctors said we should keep talking to him."
He was becoming agitated and was trembling slightly. Priscilla stroked his back soothingly.
"Yes sweetheart, you are right. We should keep talking to him."
She felt his body relax against her hand, knowing any potential panic attack had been averted.
"So what are we waiting for?" she said with a false dose of positivity. "Let's see your uncle and tell him the good news."
Sam jostled his keys in his hands whilst they stood in front of his truck, waiting for Andy to emerge from the house.
They both smiled, and nodded. Andy rolled her head, trying to relieve the nervous tension in her neck.
"Nervous?" Sam asked, as he massaged her neck.
"Yeah," she moaned, as he pressed more firmly.
"I can still come...offer my support. I promise not to embarrass you," he smiled.
"No Sam, I need to this alone. You go to Sarah's like we agreed. I'll text you throughout the night so you don't worry."
Sam wasn't happy, but they had agreed a plan, so he had to trust her and follow it through.
He gestured towards the car. "So, I'll take you to the restaurant, and then I'll make my way to St Catherine's."
"I'll take the bus, work on my nerves and clear my head."
"Okay...and by the way I put some pepper spray in your purse. You know...just in case."
Andy would normally be offended by the inference, but ignored it as she knew it was done out of concern. She rolled her eyes instead.
"Say hi to Sarah."
She took a step closer, allowing Sam to pull her closer.
"Good luck, sweetheart."
"Thanks," she whispered. "I love you."
Sam gave a wink, slid into his truck and drove away.
Andy arrived outside the restaurant far too early; the only saving grace was that Christopher was even earlier. They both recognised one another, and suddenly Andy's throat runs dry.
"I'm early," they both say it at the same time and it brings a small smile to Andy's lips. Christopher takes her hand in his own and studies her delicate fingers and the unusual bracelet on her wrist. He scanned her again, and even though her coat was tightly buttoned up he could see she had long tanned legs through her sheer stockings. He wanted to ask her if that was her natural skin tone or whether she used a sun bed. He was a lot fairer by comparison, which made him think of his mother, but quickly dismissed the thought. Tonight was about getting to know one another, and find out more about this woman who had captured his uncle's and father's heart.
"Our reservation is not for another thirty minutes. Do you want to walk for a while?" Christopher asked.
Andy nodded and he showed her the way to a bridge close by that gave a nice view of the city's landscape. They walked together in an uncomfortable silence towards it, both aware that they were venturing into uncharted territory. There was so much Christopher wanted to ask Andy, some quite trivial, but things he had always wondered and that his uncle was unable to answer. As they approached the bridge, he placed his hand on the small of her back, hoping to ease each other's anxiety.
"Just a second." Andy quickly fired a text message to Sam, telling him where she was. She needed to keep her end of the agreement, and she felt strangely reassured that he knew her whereabouts. Dropping her phone back into her purse, she smiled nervously.
"So?" she asked, actually at a loss for what to say.
"Well how about formal introductions?" Christopher suggested. "I can go first if you like."
He cleared his throat. "Christopher Michael Hill. And you are?"
"Andrea Nathalie McNally," she replied, shaking his hand. "It's nice to meet you,"
"The pleasure's all mine Andy," Christopher smiled.