Chapter 18

Denise, curious, and almost frightened, stood at the door of Joanie Weston's room. She had talked with Maria at the nurse's station before coming to her room, and found out all that had happened. Maria said that after Joanie's tranquilizer wore off, she seemed rested, and doing quite well. Maria said it would be fine to go in to see her. In fact, Maria said they had told Joanie about Denise, and how devoted she had been, and that she would probably be here, as soon as she found out Joanie had regained consciousness.

Hesitating, and not knowing why, to step into the room of this stranger who had occupied so many of her thoughts, and much of her time since she had been brought in. And now that she was conscious, and she could finally meet her, why was she so anxious?

Gathering her courage and putting on her best 'volunteer smile', she knocked on the half-closed door. Hearing a soft 'come in', she stepped inside. She could see the patient sitting up in bed. The television was on in front of the beautiful young woman.

"Hi, I'm Denise Whitaker. I'm a volunteer here at the hospital. I've been hoping to meet you ever since you came in," Denise said, shyly.

"Hello, Denise. I'm Joan Weston. You can call me Joanie, if you like. That's what most everybody calls me. You must be the one everybody has told me about, who's been so faithful and concerned about me. I appreciate it. I really do," she said, clicking off the television.

Denise sat down in the chair near the bed and said, "I couldn't believe you were here so long, and we didn't know anything about you, how to get in touch with your family, or even what to call you. We called you 'sleeping beauty' a lot," Denise said smiling.

"Hey, that's sweet. Looks like everybody took pretty good care of me while I was 'out'. The doctor said I would probably get the traction set-up off in a couple of days, then I could go home pretty soon. I live not too far from here, a little community called Golden. Do you know where that is?"

"Yes, kind of. I've heard of it anyway. Do you have any family that we should contact? A husband, children? What happened anyway? Do you remember?"

"Yeah, I remember, but it seems more like a nightmare, than reality! I was coming home from a visit to my brother's family's home. He died not long ago, and was buried in Colorado, where they had lived for quite a while. And this drunk driver, I guess he was drunk, (or maybe it was kids showing off, or something),I don't know - was behind me for several miles. I was trying to get ahead of him, or let him pass me, and the next thing I knew, here I am!"

"Gosh, that's awful! Thank God you weren't killed! You were awfully lucky to have only a fractured leg, and minor injuries. You know, the scars hardly show on your face!"

"You're right! I do thank God!" Joanie said with a shudder. "It sure could have been much worse!"

"About your family, is there anyone we should call?" Denise asked.

"Oh, well, I don't really have much family, anymore," Joanie said sadly. "My husband was killed in an accident three years ago."

"Oh, that's awful," Denise responded sympathetically.

"And I didn't have any children. Well," Joanie hesitated, "I did give up a child for adoption when I was fourteen. But, that's a long story. I had been raped... After that, I could never get pregnant again, something about some damage that was done in childbirth, the doctors said. Anyway, I don't know why I'm telling you all this. You must think I'm terrible."

"Oh, no! I'm just sorry you've had so much sorrow! And to be so young, and beautiful! May I ask you a very personal question? You don't have to answer it, if you'd rather not," Denise asked shyly.

"I don't mind," Joanie replied, curiously.

"Well, I was just wondering if you ever think about the baby you gave up. I'm sorry! I'm being too nosy, huh? I mean, I'm adopted, and I wonder about my 'real' mom a lot, you know. Just if, if she ever thinks about me, and stuff. I don't mean to pry, after all, you hardly know me!"

"Oh, that's OK." Joanie said sadly, looking off toward the window with the curtains pulled back. "You know, I haven't talked about this to anyone for a long, long time. I've just kept it all bottled up inside." Looking back at Denise, she said, "Yes, I think about my little girl all the time. I only got to see her, and hold her one time. She would be about your age now, I guess. She was born on July 10. She's just turned sixteen, the way I figure it. No, I'll never forget that day!"

Denise felt the color began to drain from her face, as she heard the date of Joanie*s child's birth. No, of course not! It couldn't be! It was just coincidence, that it was also Denise's birthdate! That she was also adopted-all just a coincidence!

"I can't imagine the horror of being raped, and being pregnant from it, and then giving up the baby! It must have been awful! And you were only fourteen?" Denise responded, trying to make her voice sound normal, as her mind was racing.

"Yes, but you grow up fast in a situation like that! I loved my baby girl very much, even though it was a horrible way to conceive. I didn't want to give her up, but I knew I had to, for her sake! But, I've prayed if the Lord be willing, I'll get to see her again, someday. I pray for her all the time. I call her Diane. Of course, I don't know her real name, but God does."

"That's such a sweet story. I hope you do get to meet her. I'm sure she would be very proud to know you were her mother." Denise replied, feeling she had to get out of this room as soon as possible! She had to get herself under control!

Denise looked at her watch, and said almost hastily, "Well, I've really enjoyed talking to you, Joanie, and I'm so glad you're doing well. I've really got to go now, but, I'll be back. I promise."

"Thank you, for coming, and for listening. I guess I needed to talk to someone, today. I was having flashbacks, when I came out of the coma. And you're a very kind girl. Did you say your name is Denise?"

"Yes, Denise Whitaker."

"Please do come back to visit me. I like you already, Denise."

Tears filled Denise's eyes as she left the room, and began to walk down the hall to the elevator. Wishing it could be true, that she had found her 'real' mother, then scolding herself, she continued to remind herself that this couldn't happen. She couldn't be Joanie Weston's daughter! It was just too far out! But yet, the same birthday! And Maria had asked if she was related to her! She said they looked a lot alike! And Denise had felt that feeling of familiarity, looking at the 'sleeping beauty'. Could it be? Oh, God, could both our prayers have been answered?

It was already dark when Denise walked out of the hospital, and out to her car. Though preoccupied in thought, fear began to rise up in her, as she walked to the dimly lit parking lot, remembering the many warnings she'd had about kidnappers, rapists, and murderers, lurking in parking lots at night. Hurriedly, she unlocked her car door, climbed inside, and locked her door again. Breathing a sigh of relief, she put the key in the ignition, and started her car. She turned on her lights, and pulled out of the parking lot onto the street. Scolding herself for her fear, she remembered that Joanie had been raped. Perhaps, her fear wasn't so foolish after all! Curious about the circumstances of the attack, Denise let her mind wander, as she automatically turned onto the main drag. The unusually congested traffic reminded Denise it was Saturday night. How could she have forgotten so quickly. Then the awful feelings came flooding back with the memory of the afternoon picnic. How had everything gone so wrong?

Interrupting Denise's confusion, a black sportscar, which looked very much like Jon's, pulled carelessly out in front of her, at an uncontrolled intersection, causing a near panic, in spite of the fact that the driver manipulated the car speedily, avoiding a collision.

Red flags went up in Denise's mind! That looked like Jon's car, but there was a girl in there with the driver. Could that have been Jon?

After the way things were left this afternoon, Denise felt very unsure of everything! The car in front of her put on the blinker for a right turn, and without hesitation, Denise followed suit! She had to know what was going on!

With close observation, she saw that the driver was paying little attention to the traffic. The passenger seemed to be moving around in the car a lot, as if playing some kind of game with the driver.

Surely, this couldn't be Jon! But who else drove a car like that in this town? Instictively, Denise knew, though hoping against hope, that it had to be Jon! But who could the passenger be?

Fury began building as the pieces began falling into place. He had been upset with her this afternoon. Then she went to the hospital, alone, instead of spending time with Jon, as they had planned. What did she expect? A good-looking, popular, college guy like Jon wasn't about to sit at home on a Saturday night!

Driving as close to the sports car as she dared, trying not to attract his attention, she pursued, hoping to get a glimpse of whoever was with him. Signaling for a left turn, the car ahead made it's way to a convenience store, on the highway leading out of town.

Following more slowly, Denise's thoughts returned to graduation night, when Roger had parked here, after rescuing her from the lonely highway. Remembering the feeling of rejection and desolation after Jon had left her stranded on the highway, and then her continuous excuses for his behavior, she began to admit to herself for the first time that, perhaps, Jon hadn't been so perfect after all.

She realized that although Jon's actions had been induced by the beer he drank, he had willingly indulged, knowing the problems that could come from it. For some reason, perhaps fear, yes, the fear of losing Jon, she had totally excused his behavior Was that love? Or was it stupidity?

The passenger was getting out of the car. Oh, no! It was the redhead from the graduation party, the one whom Denise had overheard saying she had been with Jon! Denise was shocked, but there was no mistaking the copper-red hair, and petite build.

As Denise drove slowly by, she searched her mind for the girl's name. She had looked it up in the yearbook, but what was it? Now she remembered, Jessie! Jessie Arnold.

Could it have been true? The things that she had overheard in the restroom that day? Denise had never seriously considered the possibility of Jon cheating on her before, but after all, what had changed? They were still 'going steady'! She still was wearing his ring! Regardless of the afternoon quarrel, he still had no right to be with another girl! And they had looked quite chummy in the car, Denise decided angrily.

Well, she wasn't going to let him off so easily this time!