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Touching the Clouds: Chapter 30

Kate stood at the door of Nena’s hospital room. It had been five days since their rescue. Nena was still unconscious. Kate studied Joe who had remained at his wife’s side since she’d been brought in to the Anchorage hospital. Kate’s heart squeezed. Lord, please let her wake up.

She felt a hand on her shoulder. Startled, she turned to see Mike. “You scared me.”

He smiled. “Sorry.” His eyes went to Nena. “She any better?”

“No change.” Kate’s gaze returned to Joe and she let out a heavy sigh. “He never leaves her.”

“If you were the one lying there, I wouldn’t leave either.” Gentle eyes rested on her. “I’m thankful it’s not you.”

“I wish it was. I wouldn’t feel so guilty.”

“There’s nothing to feel guilty about.” He dropped a kiss on her cheek. “Come on. You’ve been here almost nonstop.” He took her hand. “You need rest.”

“I can’t, not until I know she’s all right.”

“How about a walk? Maybe a change of scenery will help you relax a little.” He started down the hall, Kate in tow.

Mike opened the hospital door for Kate and followed her out. He caught her arm. “Kate, can we talk?”

“Sure. What is it?”

“I want to ask you something.” He faced her and took hold of her hands.

Instinctively Kate knew what he was about to ask. She stepped back. “Mike . . . I . . .”

“Please hear me out.” He glanced at the sky, his eyes tearing. “When you were out there . . . I thought I’d die if we didn’t find you. I promised myself if you were okay that I wouldn’t wait any longer to ask you . . . to . . . marry me.” His eyes implored.

Kate gazed at him, warming toward this fine man. He was the best friend she’d had since Alison. But she didn’t love him . . . not the way he needed her to.

“You know how much I care for you, Mike. You’re a true friend. I don’t want that to change.” She squeezed his hands. “And I love you . . . like I would a brother.” She stared at her feet. She didn’t want to hurt him. Looking at him squarely, she said, “I can’t marry you. It wouldn’t be right. You deserve someone who’s crazy for you.”

Mike couldn’t disguise his grief when he finally spoke. “Sure . . . I understand . . . Friends. I figured.” He glanced at the road. With a shrug, he released her hands. “Well, I gotta go. Have a lot to do. See ya.” He walked away, hands in his pockets.

Kate watched him go, wishing she loved him enough. Maybe they were right for each other, but she couldn’t make herself feel something that wasn’t there.

Paul stood in the shadow of a doorway. His heart wrenched at the sight of Mike and Kate, their clasped hands. They were a perfect couple, the way he and Susan had once been.

They talked for a few minutes, then Mike walked away. He seemed upset. Kate looked bereaved. Something was wrong. Paul wondered what it could be.

Although he hadn’t heard a word of what had been said, Paul felt like an eavesdropper. He forced his mind back to Nena, the reason he was there, and walked down the hallway to her room.

He put on a smile as he stepped inside. “Joe. How are you?”

“Okay. I guess.”

“Any change?”

He shrugged. “She’s the same.”

Tempted to examine her, Paul studied the native woman.

“Do you think she’ll wake up?” Joe asked.

Paul knew that each day she remained unconscious, her chances of coming back were less likely. “We can’t know exactly what’s going on inside her head—she obviously has some sort of injury, possibly bleeding in the brain. Sometimes all a person needs is rest. Have you talked to her doctor?”

“He has no answers.” Joe sounded angry. He stood and walked to the window where he stared out at the city street.

“Try to be patient. I’m sure he’s doing all he can. In situations like this, all we can do is wait.” Paul hated these kinds of cases. He’d seen too many that didn’t have happy endings.

“She never wanted to fly.” Tears brimmed in Joe’s eyes. “I convinced her it was safe. If I’d just left things as they were.” He returned to the chair beside her bed, picked up Nena’s hand, and pressed his lips to the back of her fingers. He rested her palm against his cheek and closed his eyes.

“Joe, you need some rest.”

His eyes full of sorrow, he looked at Paul. “I’m afraid if I leave . . . she’ll be gone when I get back.”

Paul nodded and moved to the door. He stood watching and willed Nena to wake up. Without warning the past sprang at him, like a stalking lion leaping on its prey. He’d lived this. And Susan had never come back to him.

“Paul,” Kate said.

He turned. “I was just leaving.”

“Please don’t go. I wanted to ask you some questions. Could you stay for a few minutes?”


Joe glanced at Kate.

She approached him. “Joe, how long has it been since you had a break?”

He shrugged.

“Why don’t you get something to eat, maybe take a walk or a nap. I’ll stay with her.”

Joe stared at Nena, uncertainty on his face.

“You won’t be any good to her if you collapse,” Paul said.

“I won’t be long,” he told Nena, then pushed to his feet. He shuffled out of the room, stopping at the door for one last glance before stepping into the corridor.

Kate took Joe’s place. She gazed at Nena. “I just want her to wake up.”

Paul crossed to the window.

“Do you believe God does miracles?” Kate asked.

“He never answered one for me.”


“Not when it counted.”

He stared down at a streetlight blazing in the darkness and wondered why life was so unjust. A couple, clutching one another, walked across the parking lot. The woman looked like she was crying. He wondered what kind of tragedy they were experiencing—hospitals were full of all kinds.

“It’s my fault she’s here, like this,” Kate said.

“It was an accident.”

“Like before—an accident.” Kate’s insides churned.


“That’s right. I never told you about my past.”

“Mike did. What happened doesn’t have anything to do with now.”

“My best friend died because of me.”

“Nena’s not dead. And you couldn’t have known about the engine. That wasn’t your fault.”

“I shouldn’t have been sightseeing.”

“It was an oil leak. And it would have happened no matter where you were.” He faced her. “Nena’s alive because of you. You risked your life to save hers. You could have abandoned her in that plane. Some would have.”

Kate heard the conviction in his voice. His words chipped away a piece of the armor she’d worn all these years.

“I’d fly with you any day.”

Deep affection and gratitude bloomed inside Kate. Paul always seemed to know what she needed. “Thank you. But . . . first Alison, now Nena. I don’t know how to forgive myself.”

A sigh or was it a moan escaped Nena’s lips. Had she imagined it? Kate stepped closer. “Did you hear that?”

“I heard something.” Paul moved to the bed. “Nena. Nena. Wake up.”

She remained unresponsive.

Kate picked up her hand. “Nena. I’m here. Everything’s all right. Please, wake up.”

Her fingers closed and then opened. “She moved!” Kate laughed. “That’s right. Come on. Now open your eyes.” She squeezed Nena’s hand. “It’s time to wake up.”

Nena weakly gripped Kate’s hand. Her eyelids fluttered.

“That-a-girl. You can do it,” Paul said, standing over her.

“I know you can hear me,” said Kate. “Just open your eyes and look at me.”

Nena lifted heavy lids and settled dark brown eyes on Kate. She stared at her as if trying to figure out who she was looking at. Then understanding dawned. “Kate?” Her voice was barely more than a whisper.

“Yes! It’s me!” Kate laughed. “You’re back!”

“Have I . . . been somewhere?”

“Have you been somewhere?” Kate giggled.

Nena put a hand to her forehead. “My head hurts.”

“You had an accident.”

Nena closed her eyes, then opened them again and glanced around the room. “Where am I?”

“You’re in the hospital. The plane went into the lake. Do you remember?”

Nena’s eyes widened. “Yes. I remember.”

“I’ll get a nurse,” Paul said. “And Joe.” Wearing a smile, he crossed to the door, but stopped before stepping into the hallway. “I guess maybe I do believe in miracles.”

Two days later, Paul met Kate as she walked out of the hospital. “Good morning. How’s Nena?”

“She had some breakfast and sat up in a chair for a little while. The doctors think she’ll be able to go home in a week or so. She seems fine, just weak. She doesn’t remember any of our ordeal except right before we went into the water. But it’s incredible. I was so afraid—I thought she was going to die.”

“If it weren’t for you, she would have.” Admiration for Kate swelled inside Paul. And love. He loved her. He couldn’t deny it. But he had no right. She belonged to Mike. And love meant risk—he wasn’t ready for that.

Kate looked at him with adoration, which only made Paul’s battle for reason more difficult. “Have you had breakfast?” she asked.

“Helen offered, but I wanted to get down here and see how Nena’s doing.”

“It must be nice staying with Albert and Helen.”

“It is. Helen’s spoiling me.” Paul patted his stomach.

“I’m starved. There’s a café down the street.”

“Sounds good.”

After a waitress had taken their orders and made sure they both had cups of coffee, Kate said, “This is on me.”

“No. I’ll pay.”

“Consider it a thank-you for rescuing me and Nena.”

Paul thought he saw more than affection in Kate’s eyes. No. She’s just grateful. That’s all. He took a drink of coffee. “It was mostly Mike’s doing. He’s crazy about you.”

“I’m grateful to both of you.”

“I’ll be heading back to the creek this afternoon. Mike said he’d take me.”

“It’ll be good to get back, I suppose.” Kate’s tone had gone flat. “I’ll miss seeing you every day.”

“Me too. But now that Nena’s recovering I’ve got to get back to work. There’s a lot to do before winter sets in.”

Kate glanced out the window. “Can’t believe another summer’s already gone.”

The waitress returned with two plates, one piled with bacon, pancakes, and eggs and the other a simpler fare of eggs and toast. She set the larger meal in front of Paul.

“Breakfast never seems like breakfast without bacon.” Paul picked up a piece and took a bite.

Kate smiled at the waitress as she slid the other plate in front of her. “Thank you.”

Paul wondered what the sadness in her eyes was all about. When the waitress left, he asked, “What’s wrong, Kate? Something’s troubling you.”

She picked up her fork, then set it back down. “I don’t know what I’m going to do about a plane.”

“You plan to continue flying?”

She poked at her scrambled eggs and then took a bite. “Sure. But I have to find another bird. It’ll take every dime I’ve got. I guess my house will have to wait.”

“Wish you’d stop flying.” Paul had lost his appetite.

Kate stared at him, a troubled expression on her face. “I thought about it. Sometimes I think I should stop. But I’m not reckless—I understand that better now. Alison’s death and this crack-up were accidents, nothing more. But I admit I’m afraid. But I was afraid once before—after Alison. And I walked away from flying. I won’t this time.”

“I worry about you.”

“Thanks. It’s nice to know you care.” Kate took a bite of toast.

Paul finished off a pancake, then pushed his plate aside.

“I thought you were hungry.”

“Guess my eyes were bigger than my stomach.” He smiled, but inside he had a throng of emotions swirling around. “Have you ever thought of doing something besides being a pilot?” he asked as nonchalantly as he could.

“For about two seconds.”

He nodded. “You almost died out there.”

“True, but it doesn’t change anything.”

“I don’t know if I could have stood it.” Paul hadn’t meant to tell her, but now it was out.

Kate stared hard at him, then in a soft voice said, “I can’t quit.”

“I know.”

“God gave me my love of flying. I can’t let fear keep me from what he meant for me. None of us can.”

The comment hung, suspended in the air.

Kate set her gaze on him. “What keeps you from doing what you want, Paul?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re a doctor who doesn’t practice medicine. You live in the Alaskan bush and you never see your family. You barely leave the creek. It doesn’t make sense.”

“I’m not meant to be a doctor. And I like my life just as it is.”

“I don’t believe you.” Kate gently added, “I think you’re afraid.”

“Of what?”

“I don’t know. Do you?”

Paul didn’t answer. He knew. But how could he tell Kate he was afraid someone depending on him to save their life would die, and then he’d have to live with it? Or that he was afraid to love anyone ever again?

Kate glanced at a couple who moved out of a booth and headed toward the register. “Whatever it is that holds you back, you can’t avoid it forever. Eventually you’ll have to face it.” She brushed a stray hair off her face. “You’re a talented doctor.”

“It’s not for me. I told you.”

“I’ve watched you. You’re good. You care about people.” She reached across the table and took his hand in hers. “I’d trust you with my life.”

Paul’s hand shivered beneath her touch.

“Don’t you think it’s time you did what you were meant to do—either here in Alaska or in San Francisco?”

“It’s been too long.” Paul removed his hand and picked up his cup.

“Do you really believe that? The people here need you.”

“There are better doctors than me.”

“That may be true, but they aren’t here and you are.” Kate kept her eyes fixed on him.

He stared down into his nearly empty cup. “I suppose I could help out once in a while. But I’m not committing to anything . . . not permanently.”

Kate smiled broadly. “Some of your time is better than none.” She held out her hand. “So, we have a deal? I fly and you doctor?”

Paul accepted her handshake. “Okay. But on a trial basis only.” What was he getting into? Still, he couldn’t quell the sense of excitement—working as a doctor again, spending time with Kate—it sounded like a dream.

Kate stood. “I better get back to the hospital.”

“I’ll walk with you.”

Paul and Kate strolled down the road toward the hospital. Kate took in a deep breath. “It smells like fall.”

She looked up at Paul, her hazel eyes brimming with joy and her auburn hair ruffling in the breeze. Paul stopped. He loved her. He didn’t want to—it would only mean more heartache, but he couldn’t extinguish his feelings.

“What? What is it?”

“Kate . . .” The words stuck in his throat. “I . . . I love you. I know it’s wrong—you belong to Mike, but I can’t help it. I’m in love with you.”

“I don’t belong to anyone.” Kate met his gaze. “And Mike’s a wonderful friend, nothing more.”

“But I thought—”

“He asked me to marry him. But I said no.”

Overwhelmed by the merging of hope and passion, Paul pulled Kate close and kissed her tenderly.

“I love you too,” she whispered, then circled her arms around his neck and pressed her lips to his.

Paul deepened the kiss.

When they parted, Kate smiled up at him. “So, partners? I fly, you doctor, and we’ll see about the rest?”

Paul chuckled. “Okay. Partners.” He pressed his cheek against her hair, breathing in the fragrance of it. “And, yes, we’ll see about the rest.”


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