A little less than twenty-four hours later, Maggie woke up from a nap to see Wyatt sitting in the ugly green vinyl chair next to her bed, as he had been when she’d gone to sleep a few hours earlier. As he had been all night.
He was reading a James Lee Burke book, with a pair of reading glasses pushed up onto his head uselessly.
“Hey,” Maggie said.
“Hey,” he said without looking up.
She waited a moment, but he just kept reading.
“Are you not looking at me?” she asked him finally.
“No, I’m not speaking to you,” he said to his book.
“You were speaking to me last night.”
“That was last night. Last night I was relieved. Now I’m just pissed.”
“What for?” she asked sharply, grabbing onto the bed rail.
The corners of his mouth turned down as he thought about that, then he stuck his finger inside the book to mark his place before he closed it and looked up at her.
“I’m not sure. Probably because you scared the crap out of me.”
“This wasn’t exactly my fault,” she said.
“No, but I don’t have anyone else to get mad at that isn’t dead already.”
She tried not to smile. “How long are you going to be mad?”
He stood up and put his much larger hand on top of hers. “Until I’m not.”
She smiled up at him, but he pulled his eyebrows together.
“Where are the kids?”
“They were beat. Your Mom took them back to her house.”
“Out counseling your rooster.” He sighed when Maggie looked at him questioningly. “He went out there to take Stoopid some grit and check on the chickens.”
Maggie smiled and nodded. “Okay.”
He looked at her for a few moments, his face growing serious. “I was pretty scared,” he said finally.
“Me, too,” Maggie answered.
“Let’s avoid fear for a while.”
Gray walked down the hallway, his deck shoes soundless on the tile floor. He kept his eyes on the right-hand wall, checking the numbers on the little black plaques as he went. Finally, he saw 202 and knocked twice, then gently pushed open the door.
The curtains were closed and the room was dim, with the only light coming from the partially-open doorway. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust, then he stepped around the partition and walked over to the bed.
Boudreaux was raised up into a semi-seated position, with an IV in the back of his left hand, and a couple of monitors beeping behind him.
He opened his eyes as Gray stopped beside the bed and put his hands on the rail. His face was expressionless, and he didn’t speak. Gray swallowed, then cleared his throat.
“I hear your surgery went well,” he said quietly.
Boudreaux nodded slightly. “Yes,” he said, his voice hoarse and low.
Gray nodded back, then stared at the bed, somewhere around Boudreaux’s knees, for a long moment. Then he looked back up at Boudreaux.
“Well,” he said, and stuck out his hand.
Boudreaux took it and they shook. Gray nodded once more, then walked back out of the room and let the door close softly behind him.
He walked a few doors down, then opened the door to Room 209 and stepped inside.
Wyatt was standing by the bed, and he and Maggie both looked at Gray as he walked up to the foot of the bed.
“Hey, Sunshine,” he said to Maggie.
“Hey, Daddy,” she said, smiling.
Gray looked at Wyatt. “I’ve come to relieve you so you can go downstairs and get that X-ray.”
Maggie looked at Wyatt. “You need another X-ray?”
Wyatt sighed. “It’s fine. Dr. Hamilton’s just punishing me.”
“That’s bull,” she said. “You messed up your hip, didn’t you?”
“No, I’m coming along nicely, thank you.”
Gray reached over and slapped Wyatt on the shoulder. “Go on, before he decides you need a colonoscopy, too.”
Wyatt gave him a look, then stared at him for a moment.
“What?” Gray asked.
“I’m going to kiss your daughter,” he said.
“Well, just don’t be sloppy about it.”
Wyatt bent down and kissed Maggie lightly, then gave her a kiss on the forehead for good measure.
“How was that?”
“Neat enough,” Gray said.
Wyatt patted Maggie’s hand goodbye, and when he had left the room, Gray took his place beside the bed, leaned down and kissed the top of Maggie’s head.
“How are the chickens?” she asked him.
“They’re good. It’s still too wet to move them back to the yard, but they’ll be okay in the shed for one more night.”
“He’s about how you’d expect. He’s not loving Clancy’s old dog crate.”
Maggie smiled, then reached up and took Gray’s hand.
“Thanks, Daddy. I appreciate it.”
He squeezed her hand gently.
“Anything for my little girl.”
Two days later Boudreaux sat in the vinyl arm chair by his window, watching as county workers trimmed some damaged trees across the street. Everything was still wet, but the water itself was gone, and everyone was working to make it seem like Faye hadn’t happened.
He looked away from the window as he heard his door swish open, and Maggie walked around the partition.
She was wearing jeans and a flowered blouse, and the bandage on her head was gone.
“Mr. Boudreaux,” she said when she’d reached his chair.
“Maggie,” he said quietly.
She smiled at him a little. “You’re up.”
“Yes, they’ve decided I can be trusted to sit in a plastic chair without harming myself.”
She looked at him for a moment. “I’m not really surprised to see you’ve had some better clothes brought in.”
Boudreaux looked down at his silk robe. “Yes. I see you’re dressed as well.”
“Yes. I’m going home.”
He nodded. “Good. I’m glad that you’re recovering well.”
“Hard heads run in my family.”
He blinked at her, then gave her half a smile.
“Anyway, I just came in to thank you again.”
He put a hand on either arm of the chair and gently pushed himself up, then stood. “That’s really not necessary,” he said as he slowly walked over to the little plastic table by his bed and picked up a book.
“Thank you for the reading material. I enjoyed it.”
He walked over and held the book out to her, the James Lee Burke that Wyatt had been reading.
She took it, then looked at him for a moment. She seemed a bit uncomfortable.
“What is it, Maggie?”
She gently let out a breath before she answered. “I was thinking that I’d like to hug you goodbye.”
He looked at her for a moment, then swallowed and held out one arm. She stepped closer, and tentatively put her arms around his neck. He closed his arm around her waist, and he could smell coconut shampoo in her hair as he lowered his head next to hers. He breathed it in soundlessly, then put his other arm around her and held her.
As they stood there, he realized that it was the first time, the only time, that he had held his only child.
Then she stepped back and looked into his eyes and gave him a polite smile.
“Goodbye, Mr. Boudreaux.”
“Goodbye, Maggie,” he said.
Then he watched her turn and walk out of the room.