Again all three nodded as one.
Gabriel’s smile seemed involuntary. “The truth is, Catherine has Greg to thank for that inner strength. She gained it when he deserted her.”
“They might never have met again if it hadn’t been for those spilled crabs.” Goodness made her foolishness sound like an act of genius.
Gabriel didn’t look pleased—nor should he, Shirley reasoned. But that one antic had worked beautifully. She’d admit it now, even though she hadn’t approved at the time.
“Do you have anything else to report?” Gabriel asked.
The three glanced at one another and shrugged.
“We’ve been to visit Matthias in the Seattle area,” Mercy told him in an offhand manner meant to suggest that Gabriel probably already knew about it. “He still hates Greg, but he’s more concerned about his grandson’s condition just now.”
“Ah, yes,” Gabriel said, frowning again. “I’ve heard something about that. Cancer, is it?”
Shirley nodded. “The same form of leukemia that killed the boy’s grandmother.” Then, because she wanted to impress upon the archangel that their time on earth had been well spent, she said, “We’ve been to see Greg’s brother, as well. Phil Bennett. You remember him, don’t you?”
“Of course,” Gabriel assured them. “I didn’t realize Goodness enjoyed singing in choirs as much as she does. I’m sure she’ll volunteer to be part of the heavenly host next year—is that correct?”
“Ah…” Goodness waited desperately for Shirley to rescue her, but Shirley was in no mood to offer assistance. She might have leaped in to save her friend, if not for that escapade with the hot-air balloon. She felt mortified every time she thought about it. True, the sparkling wine had gone a long way toward tempering her anger, but…
“I’ll be happy to serve wherever assigned,” Goodness stated with a woeful look in Shirley’s direction.
Gabriel arched his brows as if to say her willingness surprised him. “I find your attitude a refreshing change from when we last spoke.”
“Singing with the heavenly host isn’t my favorite Christmas duty,” Goodness was quick to add, “but I’ll serve wherever you feel I’d do best.”
Once again Gabriel’s expression implied that he was having trouble believing her. “Anything else you’d like to report?” he finally asked.
“Not a thing,” Shirley said, eager for him to be on his way.
“Nothing I can think of.”
He stared at the three of them. “All right, then, carry on. Just remember there are less than three weeks until Christmas.”
“Oh, yes,” they said in unison. They’d made a lucky escape, Shirley felt. Gabriel hadn’t even mentioned the hot-air balloon.
“It was very good of you to check up on us,” Goodness said.
That was overdoing it, in Shirley’s opinion. She resisted the urge to step on the other angel’s foot.
“Oh, yes,” Mercy chimed in. “Stop by again any time.” For good measure, she added a small wave.
Shirley sent both Goodness and Mercy looks potent enough to perm their hair.
Gabriel turned away, then abruptly turned back. “I had no idea you three enjoyed wine.”
Not one of them uttered a word. Shirley swallowed hard, certain they were going to be plucking harp strings on some cloud for the remainder of their careers.
“I don’t suppose you happened to notice the label, did you?” he asked.
No one answered.
“That’s what I thought,” Gabriel said. “It was the Bennett label. Greg Bennett is a talented wine maker. It would be a pity for him to go out of business, don’t you think?” Not giving them the opportunity to respond, Gabriel whisked back to the realms of glory.
Greg Bennett had an aversion to the antiseptic smell that permeated hospitals. It nearly overpowered him the minute he walked through the large glass doors of San Francisco General. His dislike of hospitals was linked to his mother’s long stay before her death, he supposed. That, and his own revulsion to needles and blood.
He paused at the information center.
“Can I help you?” a much-too-perky candy striper asked him.
“Where might I find Dr. Edward Thorpe?”
“Oh, you’re here about the article. That’s wonderful!”
Article? What article? Greg hadn’t a clue, but he played along as if he did. His son had decided he didn’t want to meet him, and that was his choice, but Greg wanted to see Edward. Needed to see him. He wasn’t going to make an issue of it, wasn’t going to announce who he was. He didn’t plan to cause a scene or even call attention to himself. It was just that his curiosity had gotten the better of him….
Greg realized he’d given up his parental rights years ago, but he couldn’t leave matters as they were. Not now that he knew Catherine had borne the child.
Catherine had mentioned the physical resemblance between them, and Greg felt an urge to simply see his son. He doubted they’d exchange a word. Without ever knowing him, without wanting to know him, Edward had rejected Greg.
Like father, like son.
“Take the elevator to the fifth floor.” The young woman at the information desk pointed toward the row of elevators on the opposite side of the lobby. “Tell the nurse at the desk that you’re here for the blood test.”
“Ah.” Greg hesitated. Did she say blood? He was most definitely not interested in anything to do with blood.
“I think it’s wonderful of you,” she added with a sweetness that made him want to cringe.
Greg didn’t feel wonderful. Furthermore, he had no intention of giving anyone a drop of his blood. Not without one hell of a fight first.
“Dr. Edward Thorpe—you’re sure he’s there?”
“He’s on the fifth floor,” the woman assured him. “Just ask for him at the nurses’ station.”
“Thank you,” he said, turning toward the bank of elevators.
“No, thank you,” she called after him.
Greg got off the elevator at the fifth floor and to his surprise walked into a corridor filled with people. As instructed, he headed for the nurses’ station, but before he could say a word, he was handed a clipboard.
“Complete the form, sign the bottom of the page and bring this back to me when you’re finished.”
Greg stared at the woman. “What’s it for?”
“We need you to fill out the questionnaire and sign the release if we’re going to take your blood.” Unlike the perky candy striper, this one looked harassed and overworked.
“I realize that, but—”
“Just read the form. If you have any questions after that, I’ll be happy to answer them.”
That sounded fair enough. Greg joined the others, sat down and read the page. It was exactly what the nurse had said. Basically, San Francisco General was requesting permission to draw blood. Not that he’d give it. Not in this lifetime.
As soon as he finished reading the form, he knew it was time to leave. He was about to pick himself up and discreetly disappear when a physician entered the room.
Conversation stopped as the man stood before the group and started to speak. Greg glanced up and froze. It was Edward. He recognized him immediately, long before he looked at the identification badge that hung around his neck.
“Has everyone finished signing the waiver?” Dr. Thorpe asked. “If you’ve decided this isn’t something that interests you, you can leave now. We appreciate your time. For those of you who wish to continue, we promise to make this as quick and painless as possible. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way.”
Three or four people left the room.
Greg could follow them or proceed with this. Swallowing his natural aversion, he quickly signed his name. Okay, so he had to give a little of his blood. No big deal. He’d give a lot more if it meant he could spend a few minutes getting to know his son.
Catherine was right about one thing. Edward was tall and distinguished-looking, but as far as family resemblance went, Greg didn’t see it. Still, he couldn’t stop staring. This was his son. Edward looked good. Damn good. One glance had told Greg that his son was everything he wasn’t. Dedicated. Compassionate. Smart.
“I’ll need that,” the nurse said as Greg shuffled past.
He gave her the clipboard and walked down the corridor, along with the others.
“Before we go any farther,” Edward said, “I want to personally thank each of you for your generous response to the recent newspaper article. We didn’t have this many volunteers in the entire month of November. I’d like to think the Christmas spirit has touched us all. Does anyone have any questions?”
A man with prematurely white hair raised his hand. “What will happen if we’re a match?”
While Edward talked about obscure-sounding medical procedures, Greg leaned toward the woman standing ahead of him. “A match for what?”
“Bone marrow,” she muttered out of the corner of her mouth, then turned to eye him. “Are you sure you’re supposed to be here?”
If ever a question needed answering, this was it.
“No,” he said more to himself than to her. He wasn’t sure of anything. Curiosity had brought him to the hospital. A curiosity so deep it had consumed him for days. After thirty-five years of not knowing, not caring, he now felt an overwhelming desire to see his son.
“Who’d like to go first?”
Before Greg could stop himself, he shot his hand into the air.
“Great. Follow me.” Greg stepped out of the line and followed his son down the corridor to a cubicle.
“The nurse will be right in to draw blood.”
“Aren’t you going to take it yourself?” Greg asked. Already he could feel his panic level rise.
Edward shrugged lightly. “Well…the nurse usually does this.”
“I’d prefer if you did it yourself. In fact, I insist on it.”
Surprise showing in his eyes, Edward turned to face him. It seemed he was about to refuse, but for reasons Greg wouldn’t question, silently led him to a chair and instructed him to sit down.
Greg sat, unbuttoned his shirtsleeve and rolled it up.
“Do I know you?” Edward asked, studying him carefully.
“No,” Greg responded. “Do I remind you of anyone?” He was well aware that this was an unfair question.
“No, but I thought you might be a friend of my father’s, Dr. Larry Thorpe.”
“No, I’ve never met him.”
Edward took a short piece of what looked like rubber tubing and tied it around Greg’s upper arm. Next he gingerly tested the skin. “Nice blood vessels. We shouldn’t have any problem.”
“Good.” Greg’s mouth went dry at the sight of the needle, and closing his eyes, he looked away. This was even worse than the last time he’d had blood tests. He felt the needle against his skin and braced himself for the small prick of pain. As a kid he’d fainted in the doctor’s office every time he received a shot or had blood drawn; he wasn’t keen to relive the experience. That was years ago, but even now, as an adult, he generally avoided annual checkups if he could and—The needle was the last thing he noticed until he heard Edward’s voice, which seemed to boom at him like a foghorn.