He found her sitting on the top step of the deck. It was late, eleven-thirty, to be exact. His wife had been quiet for the
better part of the evening, ever since they’d returned to the cabin after delivering the Radcliff’s baby. They’d shared an
elegant dinner of grilled steaks and vegetables, complete with a sturdy Ravenswood Zinfandel.
Bryan watched her for a few more minutes. Sliding the screen door open, he stepped out onto the second-story deck that
overlooked the lake.
Crickets chirped beneath a starlit sky while frogs croaked for more rain. Pine-scented hills provided a home to thousands
of woodland creatures. Deer, rabbits, waterfowl and a host of nocturnal animals prowled in the dark, hunting for food.
An occasional tractor-trailer traveling the highway disrupted the wilderness sounds.
Only when Bryan took a seat beside her did Lauren notice him. He put an arm around her shoulders.
Lauren leaned against him, slipped her hand under his.
“Kind of chilly out here, Doc. Do you want your jacket?”
“No. Thank you again for assisting me today, Bryan.”
He kissed the top of her head. Inhaled the fragrant raspberry shampoo she’d used in the shower. “Tell me what’s
bothering you? And don’t say ‘nothing,’ Doc. You’ve been miles away all evening.”
“I’m sorry, Bryan; I didn’t mean to be.”
“You should be the happiest person on the planet, sweetheart.” Bryan pulled back to see her face. “I mean look at what
you did today. You brought a new life into the world.”
“I am happy. Everything went well with the delivery.”
“You don’t seem very excited.” And then he paused. “Are you upset because you can’t have a baby?”
Her silence was enough of an answer.
“We discussed having kids someday, sweetheart. It’ll be just as joyful to adopt one when we’re ready, won’t it?”
Lauren stared across the lake. “I know it sounds foolish. And we elected to give full attention to our careers; I haven’t
changed my mind. Not having second thoughts, so don’t worry.”
Bryan rubbed her arm from shoulder to elbow. “It’s not foolish. I saw the look on your face today when you held that
baby in your hands.”
“I guess I didn’t expect it to hit me so hard.”
The water’s surface rippled in the night breeze. Bright moonlight transformed the water into sparkling liquid silver. The
black silhouette of hills and trees in the distance was unrecognizable against the midnight-blue sky.
“Honey, I love you,” Bryan whispered, sounding a bit too desperate for his own good. “What can I do to help you?”
“I’ll be fine, Bryan. Lots of women can’t have children and they survive. I’m not even sure I’d make a good mother.”
“Now why would you say that?”
Lauren sat up straight. “I’ve been thinking of the way my mother treated me. She was never home. Her only concern
was to make it as a singer and stage performer. Who says I wouldn’t do the same, choosing my career over a family?”
“Come here, Mrs. McFadden,” Bryan uttered, turning sideways, and he pulled the woman into his arms. “You don’t
have to worry about following in your mother’s footsteps. Every day you go into that rehab center, you show unlimited
compassion and understanding. You treat the children—and even the unruly teenagers—as if they were your own.”
He combed his fingers through her hair. “Many come back to visit and share their lives.”
Lauren sighed. “I guess you’re right.” She glanced around the grounds. “It’s so peaceful tonight, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is. How would you like to sleep outdoors tonight?”
“Bryan, are you serious? Sleep out here with the raccoons, possums, skunks, and God knows what else?”
“The animals won’t bother us.” At least he hoped they wouldn’t. “There are plenty of blankets and quilts to make a
suitable bed. C’mon, where’s your sense of adventure? It’ll be fun sleeping on the deck under the stars.”
“What about mice and other rodents? And bobcats? You said campers and tourists have spotted small bears.”
“Don’t worry, Doc, most of the bears are scavenging for food. If one comes sniffing around, I’ll protect you.”
“Look at those stars; I’ve never seen them so bright. Incredible, isn’t it?” Bryan hushed his voice. “Makes me feel so
small and insignificant.”
“It makes me wonder who’s lurking in the bushes,” Lauren said uneasily. “I bet we have a thousand pairs of eyes
watching us. Most of them less than a hundred feet away.”
“Would you lie still and stop worrying? You’d make a lousy camper.”
“Not if I had a motor home with deadbolt lock on the door. A toilet and toilet paper. Soft bed and refrigerator.”
“You’re a spoiled city woman.”
“Bryan, what made you want to become a physical therapist?”
“I believe I answered that question six years ago when you invited me for a job interview.”
“You said you liked applying technology, science, and common sense to fixing things, whether it was cars or people.
A befitting answer, I thought.”
“You remember that?” Bryan propped up on his elbow to look at her. “I was so scared, I didn’t know what to say to
“Of course I remember. I figured I either had a promising therapist or a great mechanic.”
“Ah, now I see. A ‘win-win’ choice, since you know little of what goes on beneath the hood of your car.”
“Did you ever consider becoming a doctor, dream of pursuing another career, or hope to travel across Europe?”
“No. I’m satisfied in my current job and location. One doctor in the house is enough.”
“As a child, what did you dream of becoming? You chose physical medicine in college, but you enjoy the outdoors,
fishing and wildlife.”
“I’m not fond of fishing, Lauren; I was teasing you yesterday when I said I found the fishing rods.”
“Okay, but I’d still like to know.”
Bryan thought back at least twenty years. “When I was nine, I wanted to be a racecar driver. At fourteen, I wanted to be
a concert pianist. At fifteen, I wanted to be a rock star. I was into girls by then,” he explained in further detail, “and
figured I’d have women falling at my feet.”
Lauren lifted an eyebrow. “Really?”
He laughed. “It didn’t turn out the way I planned. I was too shy to ask a girl out on a date.”
“So why did you choose PT? It’s a far cry from the interests you mentioned.”
The memory was old. And sensitive. “When I was sixteen, I had a college friend that raced at the local auto track. One
night, he crashed into the outside wall. The car disintegrated on impact. Cliff broke his neck. I didn’t know what C2
quadriplegia meant, but I learned plenty over the next six months. He invited me to therapy when he entered rehab. I
liked the equipment and the work.”
“What happened to Cliff?”
“He died from respiratory complications.”
“I’m sorry, honey.”
Bryan sat up and crossed his legs Indian-style. “It’s amazing how a single event—even a split second in time—can
change your whole life. Who knows what career I might have chosen had Cliff not raced that night.” He suddenly
brightened. “No more probing the past on such a magical night, okay?”
Magical? “What do you want to probe?” Lauren figured her husband had something more romantic up his sleeve.
“It’s time we examined our finances, Doc. We’re not getting any younger, you know.”
“Huh?” They owned a few stocks—built a modest, healthy portfolio. Their budget could use a trim, Lauren supposed.
They lived within their means and were both sensible at managing money. Bryan was acting strangely again. Frustrated,
“Smart people plan for unexpected accidents and disasters.”
“And you want to discuss this now?” She’d better distract him or risk falling asleep calculating the projected value of
their retirement fund. “I have your birthday surprise lined up for tomorrow, Bryan. We have to be in Greenfield by one
He frowned. “What’s in Greenfield?”
“You’ll see. Wear comfortable clothing and make sure you wear clean underwear.”
His laugh was spontaneous. “What? I always wear clean underwear, thank you.”
“Why do you want to discuss money?” Lauren asked, unable to keep her mind off his odd behavior and whatever he
wasn’t telling her. “Are we having financial problems?” Should she have paid more attention to the investments he chose
“Nope, no problems. I won the Fantasy Fortune Lottery. I planned to tell you Friday night over a candlelight dinner.”
Her patience thinned. “Okay. So, do I still get the dinner?”
Bryan nodded. “Yes.” He paused. “You don’t believe me; I can tell.”
“I’m not in the mood for teasing, Bryan. And I don’t wish to talk about money. We’re here to gaze at the stars.
Count those.” She lay back and fixed her eyes on the sky.
“Okay, Doc, if that’s what you want. I should warn you, though, before you check our joint bank account and see the
Lauren sat bolt upright, tired of his nonsense. “Bryan, stop talking in riddles! What have you done?”
“I told you, Lauren. I won the lottery.”
She looked him in the eyes during the pause that followed. “Oh my God. You’re not kidding me. Bryan, say you’re not
playing a joke on me.”
He shook his head. “It’s not a joke.”
Bryan explained in ten short minutes how he’d checked the lottery ticket numbers two days after moving Chris Tyler into
Emerald Sands. He discovered the numbers matched and called their attorney, Kyle Lindsay. Kyle drove him to the state
“It was the day you thought I was going to Boston to check out gym equipment. I lied and went to Braintree.”
“I knew it was odd you came back empty-handed! Why didn’t you tell me right away you’d won?”
“I didn’t want to get your hopes up in case something went wrong. The lottery officials had to conduct a police check
and search for any liens or money I owed. It took a few days, but everything came back clean. Last week they declared
me the official single winner.”
“And you’re just now telling me?”
“I was waiting for the right moment. In my briefcase, I have legal paperwork for you to read and sign. There are rough
sketches of a house I want to show you, too.”
At least he solved the briefcase mystery, Lauren thought, trying to stay calm. Her mind ran in a hundred different
directions. “A house?”
“Yes, a house. Are you surprised?”
“Stunned is more like it,” Lauren mumbled. “Bryan, what about the newspapers and local TV stations?” There was a
television in the cabin, but she hadn’t bothered to turn it on during the two days they’d been there.
“I asked to remain anonymous, but I figure our privacy won’t last long. Someone will leak the news and the media will
jump on it.”
“Who does know?”
“The state lottery officials and Kyle Lindsay.”
Silence fell between them. Sharing the news left Bryan relieved and Lauren overwhelmed.
“I expect we’ll both keep working since we love what we do,” Bryan suggested. “But now we can build our dream house,
Lauren said nothing while her thoughts spun. “How much money, Bryan?” she asked low as if the woodland animals
might hear the conversation.
“It was the biggest prize ever awarded to a single person. Remember, twenty-one states took part.”
The news was getting scarier by the minute. “How much?”
“I took the lump sum. After taxes, it comes to nine hundred fifty-five million dollars. I deposited a million in our joint
account before we left town yesterday morning.”
Chris Tyler could not have been more surprised to learn he had special visitors waiting in Emerald Sands’ front lobby.
He’d been spending time outdoors and couldn’t wait to show off his healthy tan.
They took him out to dinner, a nice family restaurant where he ordered stuffed shrimp, baked potato, and asparagus
spears. For dessert, he polished off three scoops of peach ice cream.
“So, what brings you guys to New York, on a Monday night?” he asked, a huge grin breaking across his face. “Must be
something important. You had to split work early to get here for dinner.”
“We have an offer for you,” Bryan said, and explained the plan to build a dream home. It included a comfortable
wheelchair-accessible apartment on the same property.
“Oh man! I don’t know what to say; it’s a terrific offer. But I have something to tell you. I’m not sure you’ll approve.”
“What is it?” Bryan asked.
“I’ve found someone—a girl. She’s a student nurse at Emerald Sands. We sort of hit it off my first day there. Her name
is Stacy, she’s twenty-two, and she’ll be graduating from college next year. Things between us are getting serious, so I
can’t leave. I hope you understand.”
Determined to sound supportive, Bryan kept his voice upbeat. “Sure, we do. There’s no hurry. You can always let us
know later if you change your mind.” He looked to his left for his wife’s reaction.
Chris dared to face the doctor, unsure what to expect.
Lauren met the boy’s eyes with an apprehensive expression.
“You’re not mad at me, are you Dr. McFadden?”
“No. It’s just so sudden, Chris. You’ve only been a resident here three weeks.”
“I know. I don’t want to disappoint you after you’ve done so much for me. We’ll take things slow, I promise.”
“You surprised us,” Bryan admitted, “but things will work out for the best. You won’t disappoint us.”
“I tried to call you a few days ago at the rehab center, but Dr. McFadden’s secretary said you both were out of town.”
“Yes, we were on vacation,” Bryan told him. He didn’t divulge that Lauren and he had cut their vacation short because
of the lottery business. “And now it’s time my wife and I propose a toast to you and your success!” He lifted his glass.
Lauren lifted her glass. “I’m proud of you, Chris. I wish you the best.”
“Thank you, Dr. McFadden, Bryan. Maybe in a year or less, you’ll be dancing at my wedding!”
“Well. That certainly was a surprise.” Lauren closed the car door. “I hope Chris knows what he’s doing. He’s talking
marriage to a girl he hardly knows.”
“I was ready to marry you after our first week together, Doc. Good thing you hired me after I graduated or I might have
gotten away.” Bryan paused, trying to think of something to lift Lauren’s spirits. “I don’t condone quickie relationships.
If it doesn’t work out between him and Stacy, he can always move in with us.”
“I know.” Lauren fastened her seatbelt.
“Are you up to driving, sweetheart?”
“Yes.” Minutes later, Lauren sped onto the entrance ramp of I-90. The Viper’s engine rose to a roaring whine.
“State police work day and night, Lauren.”
“I know, I know. I’m only doing sixty-five.”
It was nearing ten o’clock when the couple reached the state line. Soon, they were seeing signs for Northampton.
“We can still build our dream home you know,” Bryan said, picking up the conversation again. They had talked little
during the ride home. “Where shall we live?”
Lauren hadn’t considered moving. “Should we leave Northampton? Drive two cars each day to work?”
“I vote we go west to the Berkshire Hills. Lenox is ideal—a picturesque town with a small population. The Starlight
Orchestra frequently performs at the music center; you’d be minutes away.”
“I don’t know, Bryan; I need time to think.”
“Take all the time you need, sweetheart. I’ve come up with a new plan for a house and our careers if you care to listen.”
“Already? What is it?”
“Why don’t we build a bigger place with more bedrooms? Here me out before you answer. Trauma injuries for the
sixteen to thirty-five age group continue to rise. Surgery victims need long-term advanced medical care during recovery,
and many cases are young patients who sustain permanent disabling injuries. Orphaned street kids, runaways, kids
thrown out of their homes—too many young people have no family and no one to advocate or navigate services for
them once they leave the hospital. Many young adult head injury and orthopedic patients never make it to a rehabilitation
center because there’s no available funding after they age out of child social services.”
“What do you have in mind, Bryan?”
“Build a bigger home. Add a gym and a pool. Offer housing, medical care and rehab services to a half-dozen teens and
young adults—more if we can accommodate them.”
“You mean a special-needs foster home?”
“More than special needs. We could work with the state as foster parents, I suppose, but the cases we accept will stay
under our roof—no jumping from one foster home to another. We might even consider adoption for the younger teens.
I’m interested in hard-to-place abused and abandoned young people—physically and emotionally broken youngsters who
have fallen through the cracks or aged out of social service programs.”
Lauren contemplated the idea. “Thousands of homeless kids roam the streets with no one to care for them when they get
sick or hurt. Gunshot victims, motor-vehicle victims, assault and domestic violence victims dominate the list.
Those who don’t end up in the morgue often find themselves in nursing homes. At the very least they end up in
underqualified foster care. It’s a doable idea, Bryan. You’re suggesting a huge long-term commitment. Do you think we
can manage it?”
“Sure we could! You have connections with social service agencies. I’m positive they’ll be on board with the idea. Social
workers have a tough time placing kids with complex medical needs.”
“It shouldn’t be hard to find an architect who’s up-to-date on adapted home designs. We need a single-level residence
with six or eight bedrooms. Lots of land to expand if we want. We’ll need a staff, but that won’t be a problem.”
“Bryan, I know just the person who can help us. I’ll call him tomorrow and explain your idea. If he agrees, we’ll soon be
making a trip to Boston.”