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Atonement - Chapter 1

The two women slept snuggled in each other's arms. The day was full of high emotion and great joy, making a good night's sleep necessary. The shrill ring of the phone startled them awake and Maggie answered. "This better be good."

 

"Maggie, I'm sorry to wake you but I need to speak with Lori immediately."

 

"Sure, Steve, just a minute. It's your dad."

 

Lauren took the receiver with a frown. "Hi, Daddy."

 

"Honey, your mother has taken a turn for the worse. She's in renal failure. I need you here."

 

"Damn. I was afraid of that. I'll be there in a few minutes," Lauren said.

 

Maggie was already out of bed getting their clothes together. "What's up, babe?"

 

"My mother took a turn for the worse. Dad needs me." Lauren took the offered clothes and quickly dressed. "You coming?"

 

"If you think it's okay. I don't want to be in the way." Maggie shrugged. "This is meant for only family."

 

"I need you with me, Maggie." Lauren held out her hand. "Don't you know that by now?" Lauren smiled when Maggie took her hand.

 

"Let's go then."

 

***

 

They arrived at the hospital around three in the morning and found several locked doors before they entered through the emergency room. "I can't believe this," Lauren said. "Now we have to go all the way back to the front to find the elevator."

 

"Hey, relax," whispered Maggie.

 

Lauren turned and glared. "I am relaxed."

 

Maggie nodded. "The elevator is over there."

 

Tension filled the elevator cab for the short time they were in there. As the doors slid quietly open, Lauren saw her father waiting and she rushed into his open arms.

 

"Daddy, what did the doctor say? Does he know what the cause is? Can he help her?"

 

"Dr. Green is in with her now along with a specialist. We really don't know anything yet," Steve replied.

 

"I'm sure they will get her on dialysis as soon as possible," Lauren said. "I need to check on the tests for a transplant. Hopefully, I will be a good match."

 

"Sweetheart, we need to talk. Will you sit over here with me?" He put his arm around his daughter's shoulders and led her to the couch in the waiting room.

 

Once seated, Lauren patted the seat next to her and smiled at Maggie who duly sat down next to her.

 

"Right now, your mother is very ill and needs our support to get through this." Steve looked directly at Maggie. "You're included in this." With a fond smile, he reached over and patted Maggie's hand before turning his gaze to Lauren. "I have never been one to mince words with you and I won't start now." He took a deep breath.

 

"Just tell me what you have to say, Dad," Lauren said.

 

"As you know, your mother had a series of miscarriages before you came into our lives." Steve"s lips tugged into a grimace. "The problem was with the fertilized eggs' inability to stay attached. We desperately wanted a child so we kept trying until it became obvious her health would be in jeopardy if we continued. At that time, there was experimentation with In Vitro fertilization and having money helped us. We found a woman who agreed to be a surrogate mother and she was implanted with the egg fertilized from your mother and myself. From the moment of your first breath your mother has been your mother in every way except for the actual birth." Steve took Lauren's left hand. "Do you understand what I'm saying Lori?"

 

Lauren sat there for several minutes digesting everything and squeezed Maggie's hand with her free one. How lucky I am to have her in my life...my protector. Her medical training told her all she needed to know about her chances of being a match and knew they wouldn't be any better than a random donor's would be. Yes, she shared her parent's DNA but her actual blood was from the surrogate. She looked first at Maggie and smiled before she turned to her father and gently touched his cheek. "If I can't save my mother, who will? A lifetime on dialysis is not the way for a vital woman like mother to live. We must find a way to help her."

 

"Sweetheart, we will find a way. Her name is on the national list people needing kidneys. Right now, it's a waiting game. We won't lose her. I promise you that. If I have to spend every penny I have we will find a way." He hugged Lauren. "We can contact all her relatives and see if anyone is a match."

 

"What about Aunt Gloria? Surely by being mom's sister she would be a perfect match."

 

"Sweetheart, we haven't heard from Gloria in years. We don't even know where she is."

 

"I could ask my father to search for her," Maggie said. "He has the resources to find almost anyone."

 

"He.s already tried, Maggie. Vicky.s sister seems to have dropped off the face of the earth."

 

"You.ve already spoken with him tonight?" Maggie's brow furrowed. "He calls you...you don't call him. What's going on here?"

 

Lauren saw the suspicion in Maggie.s face and knew her dad had to gauge his words carefully. "No. No, not tonight. When the doctors first mentioned that this might happen I asked him if he could try and find her."

 

Maggie narrowed her gaze.

 

Lauren said, "Harriet. She's blood. She can help."

 

"Absolutely not!" Steve shook his head. "Your mother and I talked about that and she will not allow that to happen. She must want to see her mother. It cannot be out of pity but out of the bond between them. It's your mother.s wish that she not know anything about her kidney failure." His eyes fixed on his daughter. "Do you understand that, Lori?" He watched as she nodded. "Good." His eyes tracked to the man coming their way. "There's Dr. Green. Let.s go see what he has to say."

 

"I'll be there in a moment." Lauren turned to Maggie and wiped away an errant tear. "Finding her is imperative now. Will you help me?"

 

Maggie squeezed Lauren's hand. "Try and stop me." She gently stroked Lauren's face. "How do you feel about what your father just told you?"

 

"Told me? What do you mean?"

 

"About your mother not giving birth to you."

 

"Oh that." Lauren waved her hand. "I am her daughter in every way but birth."

 

"But..."

 

She touched Maggie's lips. "Shush. I don't love her any less. She wanted me and took a big chance at that time to give me life."

 

"But?"

 

Once again, Lauren touched Maggie's lips. "Please, let me finish. There are no buts or regrets, she is my mother and always has been. Right now, we need to get her stabilized. Then, once that is settled, we need to find Harriet Aristides."

 

"I'm right there with you. I'll use all the resources necessary to find her. I promise you that. Now, shall we see what the doctor has to say and then we can go see your mom."

 

Hand in hand, they walked to where Steve and the doctor were discussing Victoria Walker's future.

 

***

 

A month had passed and Victoria stabilized enough to return to the ranch with a private nurse. Three times a week a helicopter arrived to take her back to the hospital for the long dialysis session. Once a week, Dr. Green and the specialist, Dr. Bentley, visited her at the ranch.

 

With the demise of the mayor and his plans, Steve took the land they donated and began building a twenty-bed hospital complete with emergency room, small surgical suite and a kidney center. The trips to and from the hospital were too much for his wife and he would do whatever was necessary to make her comfortable. Most of the people in the area were self-employed and therefore health insurance costs were at a premium. By transforming the name of his ranch into a corporation, he could offer affordable health insurance to the area residents that needed it. As a business matter, it made sense if his hospital was going to be successful. At the same time, he helped his neighbors and friends. He used his considerable fortune to lure two very experienced doctors to the area to staff the hospital along with his daughter. With the imminent retirement of Doc Wilson, the town would need a new general practitioner and Lori was a perfect candidate.

 

***

 

Lauren had gone back to her home to settle matters at the research facility before tendering her resignation. With her house sold, she had all her possessions sent to Gyrfalcon, her new home, for Maggie to sort out. It would be interesting to see how their tastes would mesh once both their belongings were in the same house. As her SUV ate up the miles between her and their new home, where she knew the love of her life waited, the thoughts that traveled with her became clear. Once she settled in their new home, she and Maggie could concentrate on meeting Harriet. Once that happened, she could start convincing her sister to get to know her mother and hopefully she would offer to help. Whatever happens, I will be glad to get to know my sister. It will be like a dream come true.

 

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