Then, one thousand miles away, tragedy strikes. A massive heart attack leaves Grace’s estranged father comatose in an Upstate New York hospital. While a team of doctors fight to keep Henry Mason alive, Grace and Evan rush to his bedside to say their final goodbyes.
Henry’s passing brings little closure for Grace, but she finds herself inexplicably drawn to her new surroundings. What begins as a short trip results in an entire summer spent with Henry’s second wife, Kathleen, and her next-door neighbor, Ryan Gordon, the town doctor. When a series of unlikely events lead to Evan’s disappearance, Grace must face her worst fears to find her son and bring him back home.
Stardust Summer explores the complexities of forgiveness, what it means to be a family, and the fabulous possibility of falling in love—again.
The scream of an ambulance siren pierced the air. Grabbing his white coat and keys, Dr. Ryan Gordon bolted out the door, past his office manager, and waved at his first few patients of the day. "Be right back," he promised.
Ryan cranked his pickup, turned the wheel, and called the ER. The nurse on duty had sketchy details: Henry Mason had collapsed in the kitchen after his regular morning run. A neighbor, looking to borrow garden tools, found him sprawled on the floor, and called 9-1-1.
Kathleen, Henry's wife, was attending a ladies' breakfast at church. She'd been notified, and was already at the hospital.
At the next intersection, Ryan gripped the wheel, tapping it with his fingers, waiting for the light to change. He needed to be there. Henry was his patient. More than that, Henry was his friend.
Inside the ICU, the attending cardiologist couldn't offer much reasurrence. Despite valiant efforts from the local rescue squad, chest compressions, and two rounds of defibrillation, Henry had suffered a stroke. Moments ago, he'd slipped into a coma.
Through the glass, Ryan saw Kathleen. She rushed to meet two doctors, friends of his, at the door of Henry's room. They took turns, talking in low tones as Kathleen raked her eyes across her husband's motionless body. One physician patted her on the back stiffly. The other squeezed her hand. Ryan watched as they paused, nodded, and exited the small space.
Kathleen, now alone, sank into the seat next to Henry, clasping his arm. Monitors flashed and broke the silence with an occasional beep. The ventilator sighed and hissed.
Ryan waited for Kathleen to turn, look up, and see him, but she sat perfectly still, as if carved from stone.
The sight of Henry's wife, almost trance-like, unnerved Ryan. He'd rather a spouse cried or got angry, even yelled for answers or demanded endless explanations. Then again, no rules defined this sort of situation.
Perhaps Kathleen was praying. Or deep in thought.
There was no reason to interrupt, Ryan told himself. He wasn't family. And, at least for now, Henry's condition seemed stable.
That same afternoon, back in his office, Ryan pressed a button on his cell phone to silence the noise. He scanned the message, his fifth in the last hour.
The answering service connected him with a distressed and tearful mother, at home with her sick infant. She described the baby's symptoms; he had a history of nasty ear infections. Ryan listened closely, took a few notes on a pad on the counter, and asked if she could bring the boy to his office in the next fifteen minutes.
He glanced at the clock. Sure, it was Monday evening and he was leaving soon, but he had time, Ryan explained. He always had another few minutes. Everyone in the community knew that.
Long hours were part of being a doctor. Ryan still had a practice to build, a reputation to maintain, and patients who needed him. Every day, he left the house at dawn for hospital rounds and walked back in the door after dark. He didn’t hesitate to answer questions in the grocery store, at the bait and tackle shop, or on the sidewalk downtown.
Ryan's dedication wasn't in question, but he'd forgotten one important lesson in the time since medical school graduation. A promise he'd sworn to abide by every day of his life.
Primum non nocere. First, do no harm.
One tenet of the Hippocratic Oath.
True, Ryan did serve, heal, and save lives, but he'd neglected to nurture his own marriage.
Almost two years after his wife left him, Ryan never quite accepted that Lori wasn’t coming back. Additional responsibilities at the hospital, weekend office hours, and taking call for other physicians all allowed Ryan to bury himself deeper in his cocoon of work.
During any downtime, usually on Sundays, he sailed in the mornings with Henry Gordon. Later, he'd swim or bike until it was too dark or too cold. Just keep moving, he told himself. Don’t give yourself time to think.
But today was different.
He thought about Lori. And Henry. Especially his good friend.
His phone rang again. The display showed a familiar number and Ryan answered. A colleague of his, a neurosurgeon, confirmed that Henry had suffered another stroke. His friend had only a few days left. Seventy-two hours, maybe less. A pinprick of time.
In the privacy of his office, Ryan let down his guard to grieve. He detested this part of his job. End of life was never easy, but the senseless, untimely deaths were hardest to take. During his residency, everyone warned against getting attached to patients. They also said he’d get used to the loss of life, but he never did. They were failures. His failures.
It haunted him those first years, especially the children who died in his arms fighting cancer or incurable disease. They were the hardest to take. Now, years later, the feeling was down to a dull ache, but nothing he could fully ignore.
Ryan pulled open his laptop and clicked through several pages, stopping when he reached Henry's information. There, his friend's life was displayed in dizzying quantities of numbers and letters. He scrolled through, looking for the smallest hint of an answer.
Henry's chart revealed years of check-ups recorded, medicines added as he got older, remarks about a winter cold or an occasional bout with the flu. He showed up for appointments on time, took his medicine, exercised, and ate right. He was only fifty-seven. They'd joked about Viagra, but he’d never needed it. Everything was under control.
What had he missed?
Thirty minutes later, he shut the laptop and closed his eyes. They felt grainy and dry from lack of sleep and stress. He had been working too hard, his nurses told him. Go home. Every day, around seven o’clock, it was the same mantra.
Take a break, schedule a vacation, do something other than come to work. His staff chorused like a hundred-person choir, singing from the same sheet music at the top of their lungs.
Ryan rubbed his head and grabbed his stethoscope, slinging it around his neck. Maybe they were right, but there was no time for rest today. The little boy with the ear infection was coming soon.
And he'd promised himself another stop by the hospital. He had to see Henry one last time.
Lauren will be awarding winner's choice of either Dancing Naked in Dixie or Stay Tuned (in .mobi .pdf or .epub) to a randomly drawn commenter at each stop. Also, a $20 gift card to Amazon or BN.com (winner's choice) will be awarded to two randomly drawn commenters during the tour and a signed paperback copy of Dancing Naked in Dixie and Swag will be awarded to two randomly drawn commenters during the tour (USA ONLY).
Lauren is a member of the Gulf Coast Writers Association, the Mobile Writers Guild, and a regular contributor to Parents & Kids Magazine's Mississippi Gulf Coast Edition. Check out her website at www.laurenclarkbooks.com.
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