As promised, here is the sequel to Unconditional Love. I hope you enjoy it as much.

When I wrote this, I was experimenting with several things, including telling it in first person, writing chapter from different peoples' points of view, and including flashbacks. The 'present' parts are written in present tense and in italics; the flashbacks in past tense.

This starts a little more than six months after UL ended, sometime in June. The flashbacks tell what happened between New Years and then, how the House family came to this point.

Chapter 1. WELCOME TO MY LIFE - Just after midnight

I sit here at my wife's bedside waiting for her to wake up. I'll

admit, I'm not a patient man. But I'll sit here for as long as it


She looks like she's just sleeping, my sleeping beauty. Instead,

she's been unconscious for ten hours, thirteen minutes, and

twenty-two seconds. But who's counting?

I look over at my ten-year-old daughter, Gretchen. She's finally

fallen asleep on the other chair in the room, exhausted with worry

about her mother, a worry overshadowing her joy at meeting her baby


Baby Alex sleeps the sleep of innocence, completely unaware that his

mother lies unconscious less than ten feet away. Our beautiful little

son, well, not so little at 8 pounds and 22 inches. And don't anyone

else dare call him beautiful. But he is, perfect in every way.

Still, I can't sleep. I look back at Allison. Nothing has changed.

Her vitals are good. She just isn't awake, and when she does open

those gorgeous green blue eyes, note I said 'when', not 'if', there's a

chance she won't be able to see.

I stroke her cheek and repeat the mantra I've been saying for hours.

"Allie, time to wake up, it's time to come back to us." She has to

wake up, you know. There's no way I can raise our children alone.

Gretchen's at an age where she needs her mother the most. A mother

to get her through her first period, her first date, her first

broken heart. All I can do is feed her pizza addiction, play video

games with her, and teach her to play the piano and guitar.

And Alex, well, Alex needs to learn first hand what a remarkable

woman his mother is. Beautiful inside and out. Caring and intelligent

and affectionate and strong. When she gives you her heart, it's

forever and it changes your life.

"Allison, your children need you" I whisper. "I need you."

How did this happen? Things were going so well. My life was, if not

perfect, so much better than it had ever been.

I was never as happy as I was during our wedding and honeymoon on

the Caribbean Princess last December. I had my beautiful bride and

my equally beautiful daughter with me. Their love for me had brought

me the kind of joy I never thought I'd experience or even deserved.

We were surrounded by friends and family. My longtime best friend

Wilson and his wife, our boss, Lisa, were with us, along with their

son Tommy, who's one of Gretchen's best friends. So were her other

best friend, Emily Palmer, and Emily's mother, Clair, Allison's

friend from Albany who'd moved to Princeton soon after Allie and

Gretchen in the fall. And Wilson's younger brother, Marty, who worked

for Clair in the PPTH labs, and his girlfriend, Nancy Lloyd, who

shared an office with Allison in Infectious Diseases. Allison's

younger sister Bonnie Farmer, her husband Billy and their two little

boys, Kevin and Keith rounded out our party.

My brilliant idea for a wedding at sea had been sparked by Allie's

equally brilliant comment about being married by a ship's captain.

It turned out even better than we thought. And things continued to

go our way when we returned home.


When the taxi that took us home from the airport reached 17 Cherry

Tree Lane, the driver was able to pull up into our driveway only

because someone had shoveled it. Maybe one of the Nayars next door,

Nita or her father or brother. Or even the old man, Nita's


Of course, it could have been the remodeling crew that was supposed

to install our whirlpool tub, two-sided fireplace, and Gretchen's

restaurant-style booth while we were gone. They did have to get

their trucks in, I guess.

The taxi driver helped us in with our bags. Well, you didn't expect

me to carry them, did you? We decided to get settled before we went

to pick up our Basset, Junior, from Chase and his new wife Sully,

the best of my current ducklings.

Gretchen ran immediately to see her booth on the backyard patio, but

was back immediately.

"It's not there!" she cried.

"You did notice it snowed" I pointed out.

"Well, yeah," she conceded, but it was obvious she was disappointed.

"Sweetie, they'll build it when they can," Allie said, putting a

comforting arm around her shoulders. We didn't call her compassionate

Cameron for nothing.

I was more curious about what the workmen HAD done. The rest of the

work was indoors. I headed for our bedroom, but passing the archway

to the living room I noticed there were still tools out on the

fireplace hearth. The view from the bedroom confirmed that the

replacement fireplace was in but far from finished. "Great!" I

couldn't help exclaim. OK, that wasn't the word I used. The tile

work on both sides still needed to be finished and neither the doors

nor the screens were installed.

Next I inspected the bathroom with Allison right behind me. At least

that looked finished, the boring old tub replaced by one with

whirlpool jets. Things were looking up.

The next morning I was woken by the most God-awful racket. Allison

sat up at the noise, then immediately slid under the covers.

"Greg, there are men in our living room and they can see right in!"

she exclaimed in dismay.

Sure enough, I could see the face of one of the tile setters peering

in through the fireplace opening. My wife wrapped herself in the

sheet and stood up to head to the bathroom, pulling the covers off

of my nearly nude body. Of course, I pulled back.

"You're not going anywhere without me." We managed to cover both of

ourselves with the one sheet and made it through the walk-through

closet/dressing room to the bathroom.

I took a leak, then joined Allie in the shower, grateful that they

couldn't see us in here. Hey, only I get to see the shower water flow

over her and then scrub her back and, a little more gently, her


They couldn't see into the dressing room either. A good thing, too,

since we did get a little carried away. Only then did we get dressed

and head to the kitchen.

Gretchen was already sitting at the table. "Morning," she chirped.

"Did you know that they color the grout so it matches the tile?

Oliver told me."

"Who's Oliver?" her mother asked as she started the coffee, although

I already guessed that was the name of our peeping Tom.

"He's the man on the floor in the living room, putting tiles on the

hearth. David's the one working on the surround," she said.

In just a half hour or so she'd learned the names of the workmen

as well as all about what they were doing. That's my daughter!

"How much longer is this gonna take?" I asked Miss know-it-all.

"Just two or three days," she replied. "Should I make toast?"

"Sure, Sweetie," Allie agreed. She'd started some bacon sizzling on

the stove and took out some eggs to scramble. The food was done

quickly, which was good since I'd already worked up an appetite. We

all dug into our breakfast. Naturally, Allison wouldn't sit down

until she offered the tile setters some coffee, too, but they seemed

to have brought their own food and drink.

"We're going to have to do something about that fireplace opening"

Allie said when she finally sat down to eat.

"Hmmm" I agreed, all sorts of possibilities running through my mind.

"I'll think about it."