“No. No way.” Before he knew it, Greg was on his feet, emphatically shaking his head. “You want me to be a bone-marrow donor? This is a joke, right? You saw for yourself what happens any time I have blood taken.”

“But you did come into the hospital for the test. Surely you realized—”

“There’s no way in hell you’re going to get me to agree to this!”

“Please, sit down.” Edward motioned calmly to the chair.

He made an effort to fight back his disappointment. This meeting had nothing to do with Edward wanting to know his birth father—it was all about what he could do to help some stranger. Greg continued to shake his head. No amount of talk, even from his son, would convince him to let someone stick another needle in his arm. Or anyplace else, for that matter.

“Before you refuse, let me explain the procedure.”

“You have a snowball’s chance in hell of talking me into this,” Greg felt obliged to tell him. He sat down, crossing his arms defensively.

“Two weeks from now, Tanner will be placed in an aseptic room where all his bone-marrow cells, both the good ones and the bad ones, will be destroyed by high doses of chemicals and radiation. This is the only way we have of completely eradicating the malignant cells.”

“Doc, listen—”

“Let me finish, please, and if you still feel the same way after that, then…well, then we can talk.”

Greg groaned silently and saw that he had no choice but to listen. Once Edward was finished, he would make some excuse and leave by the fastest route possible.

“This will be a dangerous time for Tanner, when he’s most susceptible to infection.

“On the day of the transplant, the bone marrow will be extracted from you and stored in a blood bag, then intravenously transfused into Tanner over the course of several hours.” He paused and studied Greg, who sat quietly, without moving. “Do you want to ask me about the pain or how the marrow is extracted?”

“Not particularly.” He didn’t need to know, didn’t care to know, seeing that it wasn’t going to happen.

“Most people are curious about the pain, and rightly so. I won’t deny that there is some discomfort involved in this process, but I like to tell my donors that it never hurts to save a life.”

Apparently Edward hadn’t heard him correctly the first time. Greg wasn’t doing this. Couldn’t do this.

“I want to schedule the procedure as quickly as possible. As you can see, Tanner’s health is failing.”

Greg stared at him, wondering why Edward refused to understand. “Don’t schedule anything for me. You’ll just have to find another donor.”

Now it was Edward’s turn to wear a shocked disbelieving look. “You really won’t do it?”

“Not on your life.”

“It isn’t my life or your life you’re sacrificing. It’s that young boy’s. He’ll die without a bone-marrow transplant.”

“You’ll find another donor.” Greg stood, desperate to escape.

“No, we won’t.” Edward stood, too. “Do you think just anyone can supply the bone marrow for Tanner? If that was the case, I’d give him my own—but it’s not. There has to be a match. You’re that match.”

“Don’t see how I can be,” Greg said stubbornly. He wasn’t any relation to the boy.

“Why did you sign the release and agree to have your blood tested if you weren’t willing to be a donor?” Edward raised his voice.

Greg dared not tell him the truth, dared not announce the real reason he’d come to the hospital.

“Did you take a good look at Tanner?” Edward asked. “He’s only ten. He could be your son or even mine, and he’s only got a very small chance of living without your bone marrow.”

“And with my marrow?” Greg couldn’t believe he’d even asked.

“There’s a much greater likelihood that he’ll see another Christmas.”

Greg slumped back in the chair and covered his eyes with the heels of his hands. He didn’t know what to do.

“Is he going to do it?” Mercy cried, pacing the area directly behind Edward’s desk. “I can’t stand not knowing.”

“Shush! I can’t hear.” Goodness waved a quieting arm at Mercy.

“Shirley, do you know?” Mercy asked.

Shirley shook her head.

“He’s going to refuse?” Mercy collapsed against a bookcase. “Has the man no heart?”

“Would you kindly stop that noise?” Goodness warned a second time. “I can’t hear a thing.”

“They’re arguing,” Shirley said. “And poor Greg has no way of knowing—”

“That Tanner is Matthias’s grandson?”

“No, not just that,” Shirley said sadly. The irony here had God’s fingerprints all over it.

“No?” Goodness paused to look in Shirley’s direction, clearly puzzled.

“What Greg doesn’t know,” Shirley told her two friends, “is that the boy is more than Matthias’s grandson. He’s Greg’s chance for redemption.”

Nine

Phil and Sandy Bennett arrived five minutes late for choir practice. Weaving his way between choir members, Phil climbed into his position on the riser, frazzled and irritated with his wife. Sandy might not have intended to make him feel guilty about Greg—but somehow he did. Well, not guilty exactly. A little uncomfortable, perhaps.

It wasn’t until he opened the sheet music and started singing along with the others that he heard her. The blonde who sang first soprano was back! Gradually the tension between his shoulder blades relaxed. He knew it; she hadn’t been imaginary at all. He waited until the last notes had died down, then casually leaned forward to speak to her.

“Where have you been?” he asked her, unable to disguise his excitement. Before she could answer, he asked another question. “What’s your name?” It would have helped if he’d had a name to give Sandy. She knew a lot more of the choir members than he did.

“I’ve been busy,” she told him.

“You’re a member of the choir, though, aren’t you?”

“I’m here.”

Her hair was so blond it was almost white, and her singing voice… Phil had never known anyone who could sing quite like this woman. Her voice had a power and beauty that was almost unearthly.

“I’ve got to introduce you to my wife,” he said while they shuffled through their sheet music, preparing for the next carol.

“What about your brother?” she asked. “Don’t you want to introduce me to him, too?”

The music started before Phil had a chance to recover. “You know my brother?” he asked as soon as the last notes had died away.

“Oh, yes. I know a lot about you both.”

“Who are you?” He didn’t like the turn their conversation was taking.

“A friend.”

Phil was beginning to wonder about that.

“You have Greg’s loan application on your desk, don’t you?”

How she knew that, he wouldn’t ask. He’d been reading it that very afternoon just before he’d left the office, but only one person in the entire loans department was aware of it. He narrowed his gaze and studied this woman, who seemed to know more about him than she should.

“You haven’t forgiven him for what he did to your mother, have you?”

“Damn straight I haven’t.”

“Then it might surprise you to learn that he hasn’t forgiven himself, either.”

“Pigs will fly before I believe he has one iota of remorse.”

Frieda Barney turned around and glared at Phil. Someone else indicated her displeasure with his talking by pressing her finger to her lips. From the opposite end of the riser he could feel his wife’s look burn right through him.

The music started again and Phil did his best to remain focused on it. The warmth he’d felt toward the beautiful willowy blonde had evaporated. By some corrupt means, his brother had finagled this…this spy into the church choir one week before Christmas. Greg always had been a good manipulator.

“You haven’t spoken to him in all these years.” A second voice came from beside him. This woman was slightly taller than the other. A second blonde? And one who sang? That didn’t make sense. He closed his eyes, then opened them again, thinking he was losing his mind.

“Who are you?” he demanded in an angry whisper.

“The more appropriate question would be who are you.”

“I know who I am.”

“Do you?” the second woman asked. “Do you really?”

“You’ve always thought of yourself as the good brother,” the first soprano chided.

“The churchgoer.”

“The choir member.”

“Yet all the while you’ve been plotting your brother’s downfall, relishing it. You can hardly wait to see him suffer.”

Female voices were coming at him from every direction. Not one voice, not even two, but three distinct voices. He thought he’d go mad if he heard another word. “Would you kindly shut up.”

The room abruptly went silent. Everyone turned to stare at him. “I’m sorry,” Phil mumbled. He could feel the heat rush into his face as he returned his attention to his music. He didn’t know what had come over him.

Evelyn, the choir director, looked at him sternly. “Is everything all right?”

“Yes, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

The director asked the altos to go over a particularly tricky piece of music while the others waited. They’d just sung the first line when the blondes started in on him again. “It’s the season of brotherly love,” the one beside him said. “I’m beginning to wonder if you know what that means.”

Phil ignored her, refusing to let his gaze waver from Evelyn. At last the choir director motioned for the other sections to join in. These spies of Greg’s could say and do what they wished, Phil thought, but he wasn’t going to listen.

“You hide behind a cloak of decency all the while plotting your brother’s downfall,” the first blonde sang, the words fitting the music perfectly.

Phil’s breath caught. He sincerely hoped no one else could hear these ridiculous lyrics.

“The good brother.”

“The churchgoer.”

“The choir member.”

These three lines were sung as solos. The words seemed to linger in the air long after they’d been sung. Phil was convinced everyone knew the taunts were meant for him. Angry and embarrassed, he was about to get down off the riser and escape when he noticed the blonde beside him had vanished. He looked toward the row of first sopranos and saw that the other one was gone, as well. He’d never even seen where the third one had stood. How they’d left he didn’t know. Didn’t care. Good riddance. His relief was almost palpable.

Sandy began to berate him the minute they were in the car. “Your behavior tonight was appalling,” she said angrily. “What’s wrong with you?”

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