Feeling overwhelmed, she seated them at the kitchen table and started the kettle to offer tea, since she had no coffee in the house, while doing her best answer the questions thrown at her amid the women’s overlapping conversations. They had all clearly worked together before and were at ease, and while they were all perfectly polite and warm, it still was a bit like being surrounded by a murder of crows all cawing at her at the same time.
They were a noisy, chattering bunch, but she was growing more accustomed to it as they all sipped tea, and the women asked questions, and each offering input. She found it almost amusing how the florist had an opinion about buffet or sit-down for the meal, and the seamstress expressed her delight when the organist suggested something besides the traditional “Wedding March” for the trip down the aisle.
She admired their close-knit friendships and experienced a small pang as she realized she didn’t have any close friends. The last few have drifted away after Granny died, when Kevin had required almost all of her attention, and her job for Connor had taken up the rest.
She was laughing at something Leanne, the florist, had said when Kevin shuffled into the kitchen, and she knew immediately he was upset. She started to get to her feet, but she wasn’t in time to keep Kevin from banging his head against the wall several times before she could reach him.
She put her hand on his arm. “Shush, Kevin, it’s okay. Don’t hurt yourself, baby.” Immediately, she realized all the noise in the kitchen must have been what set him off. He wasn’t good with strangers or loud noises, and the group gathered in the kitchen had clearly upset him.
She turned briefly away from Kevin to face them, nearly overwhelmed by the sympathy in the five pairs of eyes gazing back at her. It was enough to make moisture fill her eyes. “I’m afraid we’ll have to do this some other time. Kevin is upset by new people, and we’re being too loud. Later in the week—”
Before she could finish her sentence, Kevin had turned around, swinging his arms wildly in front of him as though to ward off imaginary blows. Unfortunately, his arm connected with her face and sent her flying into the refrigerator. Her cheek ached where he’d hit her, and stars danced behind her eyes from where the side of her head had collided with the refrigerator.
She was weak and woozy, and a second later, she collapsed to the floor. Angelina blinked her eyes, trying to focus on Kevin and the problem at hand, but unable to keep her eyes open. She was vaguely aware of two of the women crouching down to check on her, and she thought she saw Carly approaching Kevin cautiously. “No. Stay back,” she warned, though each syllable cost a considerable amount of effort to push through her lips. When Kevin was like this, he was unpredictable and unconsciously aggressive.
She wasn’t certain why, but when she saw Kimberly, the organist, lift her cell phone, she said, “Call Connor.” Those were the last words she managed to say as she slipped into unconsciousness, surprised by how safe the idea of Connor arriving to take over made her feel. She knew he wouldn’t let anyone hurt Kevin, and he would be able to keep things calm. She hoped.
Angelina flinched at the light shining in her eyes, trying to turn away from it.
“No, not yet,” said the soothing voice. “I need to evaluate you for concussion.”
She mumbled something, and then it all came back to her. Her eyes snapped open wider, though the light hurt. “Kevin. What happened to Kevin?”
“Kevin is safe,” said a familiar voice from behind her.
The sound of Connor’s voice induced a form of relaxation that surprised her. It was even more surprising that when he came to slip his arm behind her waist, she let herself melt against him. She turned her head slightly to look at him, nonplussed by the way her gaze blurred at the edges, but happy to be able to see Connor without the blinding flash of pain she experienced from the light the doctor had shone in her eyes. “Where is Kevin?”
“He’s at the Henderson Center, Angelina.”
She let out a sound of distress. “He’s not due to go until Monday. He’s not ready yet.”
Connor’s mouth was set in a grim line. “There wasn’t another choice, Angelina. One of the ladies called emergency services, and police came along with the ambulance. They were going to take him into custody and place him in a state facility—”
She shook her head, regretting the motion as it made pain flare behind her eyes. “He didn’t attack me. It was an accident, and he didn’t know what he was doing.”
Connor held up a hand. “Whoa, I know. I explained that to them, and I told the officers he was due to go to the Henderson Center on Monday. They were still going to take him into custody, so I called Karen Winwood, and she agreed to take him early. The police escorted him to the facility after sedating him, and he made the trip in one ambulance, while you took another to the hospital. It was either send him to Henderson early, or allow him to be put into the state system. You might not have gotten him out after that.”
She sighed heavily. “I…I understand, but I wanted to be there with him when he got settled, to explain to him that I wasn’t abandoning him, and I’d be there to see him every weekend.”
Connor nodded, his hand rubbing her back in a soothing motion as the doctor checked her reflexes before standing back, clearly giving them a moment to finish the intense conversation. “That reminds me. Karen asked that you not visit for two weeks, to give him a chance to settle in. After this incident, he’ll be assigned a state social worker who will monitor his progress, so Karen wants him to have as smooth an integration as possible, to avoid you losing medical power-of-attorney.”
Tears came to her eyes as she realized how dire things had become. “Why did they have to called emergency services? Why couldn’t they have just left well enough alone?”
“You were unconscious, and you have a severe concussion,” said the doctor, clearly deciding to intrude on the conversation. “It’s a good thing someone called. This isn’t the sort of injury you sleep off and forget about. I’m going to keep you in the hospital at least overnight for observation, and to ensure your brain doesn’t swell any further. You were seriously injured today. Yyou should be grateful someone interceded and got you and your brother the help he needed.”
She was resentful of the doctor’s words, and it took everything she had not to snap at the other woman. Instead, she remained sullenly silent as the doctor finished the examination before deeming her ready to be moved to a room for the night.
After Dr. Whitaker left, she turned to Connor again. “How did Kevin look?”
He shrugged a shoulder. “I really don’t know. He was te
rrified and hitting out at everyone when I arrived, and I arrived just a few minutes before the cops and the ambulances came. They sedated him almost immediately, and he seemed on the edge of sleep for the rest of the time I saw him. He wasn’t wrapped in a straitjacket or anything for the trip to Henderson, so I don’t think he was overly traumatized by that. I’m not sure how he is, or will be anyway, after the drugs wear off, but it really was the only option.”
She nodded, a hollow ache in her stomach from just how greatly she had failed Kevin. If she hadn’t let in the wedding planners, none of this would have happened. If she’d had the money, or the courage, to commit to sending Kevin to a place that would help him sooner, this wouldn’t have happened either.
She hated how her baby brother had ended up arriving at the Henderson Center, and that she wouldn’t be able to visit him for a couple of weeks, and the guilt laid heavily on her. So did the pain in her throbbing head, and she collapsed against the exam table a few minutes later, almost grateful that she could just rest for an uninterrupted span of time.
For the first time since Granny had died, she would be able to let down her guard a bit and sleep without worrying about Kevin wandering away or getting up to do something dangerous, like make hot chocolate. He had done that one night, leaving the burner on High under the empty pot. The smoke detector had woken her up, and the heat had only scorched the pot, but it could have been a much worse outcome if she hadn’t kept the smoke detectors in peak condition. That was the last night she had slept deeply, she realized with a start, and that had been more than a year ago.
Once settled in her room, she was surprised to find Connor didn’t leave her. She was starting to feel groggy and was uncertain if that was from the concussion or medication they had given her in the IV that she’d awoken with. “You don’t have to stay,” she said in a hazy voice.
Connor shrugged. “I have nowhere else to be that’s even half as important.”