Upon A Midnight Clear
Author:Linda Howard

Christmas Magic Margaret Allison Chapter Two
The airport was even worse than Kim had expected --which was saying quite a bit. And, unfortunately for Kim, she had been unable to get a direct flight-- or even a semidirect flight. On the busiest travel day of the year, the best the airline could do was to fly Kim from Miami to Chicago. In Chicago she had to transfer planes and jump on a flight to Pittsburgh, In Pittsburgh, she was wait-listed on a flight to Detroit. It was an extremely circuitous route, but considering the circumstances, Kim didn't have much of a choice.

And now, as she waited in a terminal in the Pittsburgh airport, she could feel her patience begin to wear thin. She kept an eye on the two gate attendants, flashing them a look that alternated between pissed off and sugary sweet, as though she had not yet decided which tactic would work best. She had missed the previous flight and this was her last chance. The next flight wouldn't be leaving until tomorrow morning. She checked her watch. Boarding would start at any moment, which meant in a few seconds she would know whether she would arrive in Detroit this evening or tomorrow.

She glanced around her. Everyone seemed to be scurrying as fast as possible. Haggard-looking parents held on to tired and cranky children as they rushed to make their flights. As she scanned the crowd her eyes focused on a tall, handsome man moving in her direction. Although he was definitely not her type, he was striking nonetheless. She had always thought of herself as a good judge of people, and she judged him to be a California beach bum. He certainly looked like it. He was all muscles, with lean, handsome features that were framed by tousled, wavy brown hair. He had a deep tan and at least a two-day beard growth. He was wearing a bright tropical shirt, jeans, and sneakers and carrying a large red backpack over his shoulders. Kim knew the type. The, "Hey ladies, look at me" type. Handsome and aware of it. His only concern was the height of the waves.

She watched as he walked up to the gate and began to speak to the attendant. He pulled out a ticket and showed it to her. It was obvious that he was not confirming his seat, but was asking her a question about the flight.

The other gate attendant began to board the flight. Concerned, Kim grabbed her luggage and began to move forward, just as the man pulled out his wallet and flashed the gate attendant what appeared to be ID. Kim stepped up to the ticket counter and interrupted. "Excuse me," she said, sensing disaster. "Can you tell me when you'll announce the names of the wait-listed passengers that can board?"

The attendant didn't even look up from her computer screen. "I'm sorry, ma'am. There's only room for one waitlisted passenger. And that would be this gentleman right here."

"What?! But I was here first," Kim said, trying desperately to remain calm. "He just got here!"

"Look," the man said quietly to Kim. "I can explain."

"This is not fair," Kim said, tears welling in her eyes. "I've been waiting here for two hours, and you're letting some guy just bump me right off?"

"I'm sorry, ma'am," the attendant said insincerely. "It's not up to me. He was priority-ranked."

"Please. Just let me explain..." the man began.

"Priority-ranked?" Kim said incredibly. "What kind of a system is this?"

"I'm sorry, ma'am," she repeated simply as she handed the man his boarding pass. "It's out of my hands. I'll be happy to book you on a flight leaving first thing in the morning."' "Please," the man said calmly to Kim. "I can explain..." he began.

"You don't understand!" Kim interrupted, as the tears began to flow. "My father is very sick. He's in the hospital... intensive care. Tomorrow morning may be too late."

The gate attendant rolled her eyes as though she had heard it all before. Sick aunt, sick grandpa, sick dog, sick dad. It made no difference to her. It was the busiest travel day of the year, and Kim wasn't getting on that flight

Kim glanced back at the man with the seat assignment. She may have lost the gate attendant's sympathy, but it looked as if she still had the man's attention. "We're very close, my father and I," she explained, lowering her voice but keeping the intensity. "He's on his deathbed. If something happens to him before I get there, I don't know if I could live with myself." Hmm. Well at least part of it was true. The part about him being her father.

The final boarding call was made, and the man glanced down at his ticket.

"Please," Kim said. "He could die before I get there." Okay, now she was really upset.

The man glanced toward the boarding gate. He looked at Kim as if evaluating her for truthfulness. He sighed. "Here," he said, handing her his ticket. "Go ahead."

Kim glanced down at the boarding pass. It was issued to an A. Hoffman. She smiled at him appreciatively. "Thank you, Mr. Hoffman. Thank you so much."

"Good luck," he said matter-of-factly.

Kim held her Styrofoam cup of thick black coffee in her hands as she glanced around the critical care waiting room. It was quite a bit more comfortable than the emergency waiting room, with clusters of well-worn, plump beige couches and chairs, and a small kitchen area.

At ten o'clock in the evening, the waiting room was practically deserted. In fact, only one family remained in the room with her, anxiously awaiting news of their loved one. The parents sat on the couch, holding hands as they stared blankly at a large TV screen. Two girls, sisters, Kim guessed, sat on the floor beneath their parents, working on a jigsaw puzzle that they had spilled out onto the coffee table.

Kim glanced up at the TV. The sound was turned down so low she couldn't even hear it, but the images were familiar enough that she didn't need any sound. In an advertisement for a local car dealership, a man whom she presumed to be the owner of the dealership was dressed up like Santa, pointing his finger and chatting at the camera. She had no doubt he was promising great prices this holiday season.

"Excuse me, Kim?"

A man with silvery white hair and a long doctor's coat stood in front of her. Kim jumped up, almost spilling her coffee.

"I spoke to you on the phone. I'm Dr. Harkavey, your father's cardiologist."

"Hi," Kim said, not certain which questions to ask first.

"I've met you before, when you were about this big," he said, raising his hand to his waist "You probably don't remember."

Kim squinted as though trying to recall.

"Why don't you set that down," he said, motioning toward her coffee. "Let's take a walk."

Still silent, Kim set her coffee down on the counter. She glanced over at the family, who were staring at her sympathetically. She flashed them a brave smile before following the doctor out into the hall.

"What's going on?" she said. "They wouldn't let me see him."

"I know. I'm sorry about that. They're just trying to be extra carefuL You're father's an important man around here." Kim knew that. She also guessed that her father was an unpopular man around there. He had never been an easy man to please, at home or at the office.

"But why can't I go in?"

"They're worried about infection. His system is very weak right now. But I think it'll be all right if you want to see him for a moment. We won't stay very long."

"But is he... will he be all right?"

"Well," he said carefully. "We were lucky. He was here when he had his heart attack so he was able to get medical attention immediately, which probably saved his life. However, he's got a serious problem with his mitral valve, as well as several of the arteries that lead to the heart. But we've assigned one of the top thoracic surgeons in the country to your father. As soon as your dad is stable, we're going to go ahead and operate... replace the mitral valve and unclog the arteries. Assuming," he said, pushing open a set of swinging doors as he checked his watch, "the surgeon has arrived by then."

They stopped at the nurse's station at the end of the corridor. "This is Kim Risson, Dr. Risson's daughter," Dr. Harkavey said to the nurse behind the desk. "I'm going to take her in for a few minutes." The nurse nodded as she flashed Kim a sympathetic glance. "Here, Kim," he said, handing her a mask. "Why don't you put this on."

Kim slipped the mask over her face.

"I have to warn you, your father won't be conscious. He's heavily sedated, and he's intubated as well," he said, leading Kim down the chilly, antiseptic white hall. He stopped at a door at the end of the hall and pushed it open.

Kim hesitated in the doorway. She felt an eerie sense of numbness overtake her as she slowly stepped inside the room, her eyes focusing on the form in the bed. This couldn't be her father. The man under the covers looked much smaller than her dad. Much older.

She stepped closer. There were tubes everywhere, coming out of her father's nose, his mouth, and his arm. This was not the strong, handsome, intimidating man she remembered. This man looked frail and weak. Helpless.

Kim was seized with a sudden, intense sense of impending loss. Until now, everything had seemed so surreal, almost as if she were having some sort of vivid dream. But now, for the first time in fifteen years, she was standing in front of her father, the man she had for so long held responsible for much of her pain and suffering. And surprisingly enough, she no longer felt any anger toward him. All she felt was love. Regardless of how he felt about her, he was her father, her only family, and she needed him to get well. "Dad," she said quietly. "Dad, it's me. It's Kim. You're going to be okay." Her father lay still. Kim doubted that he had even heard her. She glanced back at Dr. Harkavey, and he nodded encouragement

"Dad, I'm going to stay here with you. We're going to get through this. You're going to get better. Okay?" She picked up his lifeless hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.

She felt a touch on her arm. Dr. Harkavey gently steered her out into the hall, shutting the door behind them. "I know it means a lot to him to have you here, Kim."

Kim pulled off her mask. The top of it was wet.

"Here," Dr. Harkavey said, handing her a tissue.

Kim touched her fingers to her cheek. No wonder the mask was wet. She was crying.

"Can I get you a glass of water? Some coffee?" Dr. Harkavey asked.

Kim shook her head. What a nice man he was. With a decent beard he could even pose as Santa.

Like a kindly grandfather, Dr. Harkavey took her arm and steered her back toward the waiting room. "If you like, I'll ask the surgeon to stop by when he arrives. He can answer any questions you have about the procedure."

"Yes," she said, nodding, as they paused outside the waiting room door. "Thank you. When is he going to get here?"

He glanced at his watch. "When he called he was in Toledo, and that was about two hours ago." Which would mean he should arrive at any minute. "He would've been here sooner," he continued, "but he was vacationing in the Caribbean this morning. He interrupted his vacation to come back here and take care of your father. Apparently he had some trouble with his flights. I haven't talked to him, but somebody said he got bumped from one of his connections, so he had to rent a car to get back here."

For some strange reason Kim had a sudden sense of dread. Just tired, she told herself. Tired and stressed. "Where did he have to drive from?"

"Pittsburgh or something."

"What's his name?" Kim asked hoarsely.

"Hoffman. Dr. Anthony Hoffman."