Carolyn had just finished sewing the lace on a christening gown, when she heard a loud thump in her mother's bedroom. She raced in to find her mother lying on the floor, hacking so violently blood spilled from her lips.
Trying to remain calm, she picked her mother up and settled her back in bed. "Do I need to call an ambulance?" Or Father Dorian?
Her mother shook her head.
"Don't tell me you're fine, Mom. I know you're not." She paused. "Thomas told me what's going on."
Her mother lay in her bed and wheezed for several long minutes before answering. "He shouldn't have told you."
"You're right. You should've told me."
"Why? There's nothing you can do. Nothing anyone can do."
Frustrated, she said, "You can't be left alone every day. You need daily medical care." Why didn't her father see that?
"I sleep a lot, Liebchen." She closed her eyes. "I'm tired now. We'll talk later."
Her mother didn't wake up for the remainder of the day. But Carolyn waited around to speak to her father, which would be awkward since they hadn't seen each other or spoken to each other since before the wedding.
She waited on the front porch so he couldn't avoid her.
Late afternoon, Eli West hauled his bulk out of his truck and stopped at the edge of the stairs; his eyes held an accusatory gleam. "You already leave that McKay bastard?"
It took every bit of patience not to rise to his taunt. "No. How long are you going to let Mom suffer alone? She fell out of bed today. What if I hadn't been here? And don't lie to me, Dad. I know the arthritis is in her lungs."
"Why do you care? You left here-left her. Her problems ain't your concern."
"They don't seem to be your concern either."
"Don't you take that smart tone with me."
"Do you want her to die? Because that's how it's coming across to me."
He raised his hand and it would've connected with her face if she hadn't ducked. "As usual you don't know nothin'."
"Put her in a nursing home where she can get the care she needs."
The way her father looked away guiltily…something else was going on. "Or are you refusing?"
His angry gaze snapped back to her. "I can't afford long term care for her, okay? Unless I abandon her as a ward of the state and then they make all the medical decisions for her. I'll lose everything I've worked for my entire life. And you know what? I'd gladly give it all up, but she won't let me. She says she'll die in her home with dignity, not among strangers who only want to prolong her life to eke more money outta me."
Tears rolled down her face. Once again Thomas had gotten everything wrong. Their dad wasn't the villain; he was a victim of his wife's stubbornness and circumstance too. "What can I do?"
She noticed his eyes were moist. His voice was so scratchy when he finally spoke. "Be here with her during the day until I get home from work. I can't quit and lose my job and pension this close to retirement. But my boss said I can knock off two hours early until…"
Just thinking about that was a knife in her heart. Carolyn swallowed the lump in her throat and said, "I'll be here."
"Thank you." Then his gaze tapered to a fine point. "I need your word that you won't tell McKay about this."
"Your word, Carolyn. I promised your mother I wouldn't tell you kids nothin' about this. And McKay knowin' that I don't have the money to give my wife…" His voice broke. "Please. I need some dignity in this too."
None of this sat well with her, but she didn't have a choice. Since Marshall had taken a job in Cheyenne and Stuart moved down south to build houses, she had no help-emotionally or physically-from any of her siblings. Taking a chance her father might rebuff her, she hugged him. "Okay. I'll keep this between us."
He hugged her for a long time.
Carolyn stepped back and wiped her eyes. "I'll be here in the morning."
So her every-other-day visits became daily visits. She'd go home late in the afternoon, exhausted, wishing she could tell Carson why she was spending more time at the home she couldn't wait to leave, rather than the home she'd made with him.
Lying to her husband-a lie of omission was still a lie in her guilty mind-ripped her up inside.
She thought about seeking solace and advice from Father Dorian, who visited her ailing mother every other week. But Carolyn suspected he'd remind her that she'd willingly taken on the burden of her mother's care and her family's secret-and it was her Christian duty to honor her father and mother.
At first, Carson didn't say too much about her absence because fall was a busy time. He'd crash right after supper and be up at the crack of dawn the next day. She'd come up with reasons why she had to be at her mother's; canning and preserving food took up a lot of time, as did the extra sewing projects she'd taken in for Maxine. Their trailer was too small for sewing equipment so the work had to be done where her equipment was-at her mother's.
Eventually she didn't have to create excuses because Carson stopped asking.