Continuing Tales

Second Chances

A Labyrinth Story
by Stormlight

Part 3 of 18

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Second Chances

"How is she, Dr. Thompson? Will she be all right?"

Dr. Thompson sighed and rubbed a hand through his graying hair. "She’ll live, but she’s weak. The bronchitis was harder on her than it would have been, had she been given proper treatment. She’s very lucky it hasn’t developed into anything even more serious, like pneumonia." He eyed the other, dark haired gentleman before him. "You’re her manager, aren’t you, Mr. Trent? Didn’t you notice that she was seriously ill?"

Clifford Trent shifted, absently picking a bit of lint from his expensive, pinstriped suit and draping his leather trench coat over his other arm. "Well, you see, Sarah is very stubborn," he began uncomfortably. "She’s been fighting this cold now for weeks, ever since winter set in, actually. I have suggested…once or twice…that she take a rest, but you know Sarah. The ‘show must go on’ and all that." He laughed, somewhat nervously, and picked another piece of invisible from his shoulder.

Dr. Thompson coughed and tried to look understanding, but on the inside he was rolling his eyes in a most unprofessional manner. "Well," he said firmly. "As her physician, I am now ordering her to complete bed rest until she is *completely* recovered, no matter how much she protests. It’s too risky for her to be working so hard. She could have a relapse, and this time she may not be so lucky."

As he suspected, Clifford looked anything but thrilled with the prospect of losing his meal ticket, even for a short time. "But what about her fans, Doc? She’s the hottest thing to hit the theaters in years! We’ve got shows scheduled all over the United States, three more in New York alone! What am I supposed to do? Cancel them?"

"Yes," came the firm reply.

Clifford spluttered like a fish for a moment. "But…but people have been paying good money to see Sarah perform! Her popularity has skyrocketed since her final performance before her collapse! How can I possibly cancel?"

Dr. Thompson fixed the manager with a hard look. "You pick up the phone, and you call," he replied sternly. Clifford hesitated, then threw his coat around his shoulders and prepared to leave. "If I didn’t know better," the doctor added slyly, "I’d almost think you were more worried about the money you’re going to lose than Sarah’s health. But that’s not true, now is it?" Clifford glared at him, then turned and strode out of the office, heading toward Sarah’s room.

* * * * *

Sarah leaned back in the hospital bed, exhausted after another round of coughing. Her chest felt like it was on fire, but still she felt a lot better than she had before. At least her fever was down, and she could breathe. She took a swallow of water, wincing as she swallowed. Of all the lousy luck, to take sick like this when she was needed so badly on the stage. She lived for her work! She was needed and loved by her fans. Her room was already filled with flowers and balloons from well-wishing people, most of whom she didn’t even know. She was touched, and somewhat put out, that so many complete strangers cared so much about her. There came a knock on the door and Clifford stuck his head inside, giving her a strained smile. "Hi, Cliff," she managed to croak out, returning his smile.

"So, did you hear the verdict yet?" Clifford asked, ignoring her greeting as he settled himself into the plastic chair beside her bed.

She nodded. "Yeah. Complete bedrest until Doc says otherwise," she rasped with a sheepish shrug. "Guess the show isn’t going on for awhile." She attempted a smile at her joke, but it fell flat. She knew how disappointed Cliff was bound to be, and she hated letting him down, but even she knew better than to strain herself more than she already had. It was humiliating, collapsing in the middle of a performance, even though it had, for some reason, made her more popular with theater buffs than ever. Still, she didn’t care for a repeat of the incident.

"Are you sure you should talk?" Clifford asked worriedly. "I mean, that throat sounds bad. You could end up ruining that gorgeous voice of yours. Then where would you be? Fans pay to hear you sing like an angel, not a frog."

"You are too kind," she replied dryly. "Look on the bright side though. I can still act. I could always become a mime." Clifford looked so horrified at that comment that she had to laugh, despite the considerable pain she put herself through by doing so. "Relax!" she rasped. "It was a joke! I’ll be fine. But Doc is right. If I keep pushing myself like I have been, I’ll only make it worse. In six months, or a year, I’ll be back, and better than ever! You’ll see!"

Clifford smiled. "I wish I had half your optimism," he replied fondly. "You would be so good for me. Too bad you didn’t except my proposal last Christmas."

Sarah’s eyes darkened. "You know I can’t marry you," she said gently. "You’re my manager, and my friend, and anything more would ruin it. Besides, who would take care of Toby? Ever since Mom and Dad died in the accident, he’s been getting into more and more trouble. He needs me, and starting another family would just get in the way of that. I can’t abandon him, too. It would break his heart. It would break *my* heart."

Clifford sighed. "I suppose so," he replied grudgingly. "I don’t see why he couldn’t still be with us even if we get married, but I’ll go by your wishes. But don’t think I’m going to give up. To a lot of other people you’re known as the Ice Queen, but not to me. I know that under that man-hating exterior you have a loving heart. You just need to learn how to show it."

Sarah forced a laugh. "I never said I hated men," she protested. "I just don’t date them. A relationship would only get in the way of my career, and I don’t want that to happen. Not yet. Maybe in ten years I’ll reconsider, but not yet." She smiled. "Until then, I’ll just have to put up with the dirty names the gossip columns all give me. It’s kind of funny, actually. Did you see the new one the Star Magazine came up with? They called me the Queen of Heart-breakers. Not bad, huh? The Ice Queen is my favorite, though. It reminds me of a story I once read about a land called Narnia…"

"You and your fairy tales!" Clifford snorted, smiling fondly. "It’s amazing that you haven’t lost your sense of reality to all that fantasy junk you read!"

She grinned. "That ‘fantasy junk’ is what helps keep reality from overwhelming me," she replied. "If not for that, all that ‘reality’ would bury me, especially the parts that involve cameras and reporters."

Clifford shook his head. "You almost lost your mind once to a fantasy, as I recall," he pointed out. "A certain dream you had…?"

"Oh, that!" Sarah waved a hand dismissively. "I told you, that was *ages* ago! I was just a kid, who was obsessed with a fantastic play to the point where I actually dreamed it happened to me! But what a dream!" She smiled and sighed in mock bliss, fluttering her eyelashes. "Oh, what a villain he was! Just like I always had pictured him…"

"I may be sick," Clifford muttered, and Sarah grinned playfully at him in return.

"Why, Cliff! Could it be that you’re actually *jealous* of a figment of my childhood imagination?" she teased. "If it makes you feel any better, I can’t really even recall what the Goblin King looked like. All I remember are his eyes. They were two different colors, you know."

"Yeah, yeah, so you’ve told me numerous times before," Clifford replied impatiently. "Look, just drop that, okay? That dream is all you talk about! And that Goblin King person. If I didn’t know better, with the way you’re always talking about him, I’d almost believe that you were in love with him!"

Sarah stared at Clifford in disbelief. "I cannot believe you just said that," she snapped. "I’m not even going to grace that comment with a retort! ‘In love with him’, indeed! He *isn’t real*, and this jealousy you have for a not-real guy is beginning to scare me!" she sniffed.

Clifford sighed. "Look, never mind, okay? Let’s not argue. I need to go to a meeting, but I’ll be back later. Your neighbors are taking care of Toby, by the way, so he’s okay. They said they’ll bring him by later on. It’s a good thing you were close to home when you collapsed. Makes it easier for the kid to be around you."

Sarah frowned. "Has he gotten into any more trouble lately?" she asked. "I mean…he hasn’t been caught shoplifting again or anything, has he?"

"Not that I know of," Clifford replied with a shrug. "I didn’t ask, really. You know, if the kid is that much trouble, why don’t you put him in a home? With you gone so much, and those neighbors of yours so old, he’s kind of becoming too much to handle. He’s…what? Thirteen now?"

"In a month," she replied, looking angry. "And if you even think of suggesting that I put my brother in a ward I will personally skin every last strip of flesh from your body and feed it to the fish in the river! How could you think I’d abandon him that way? He’s my brother!"

"Okay! Okay, calm down! It was only a suggestion," Clifford hurriedly said, holding up his hands. "Look, I have to go now. I’ll be back later, okay?" He flashed her that movie-star smile of his and left the room.

Sarah glared after him, then turned to the window and stared blindly out of it. Maybe Cliff was right, she thought to herself. Maybe Toby *would* have been better off in a home where he would have gotten discipline. He certainly needed it. Ever since their parents had died almost five years ago, he had become moody and withdrawn, losing interest in everything. Then he began to shoplift, and had already been arrested twice after being caught with a Walkman in his hands and then two cassette tapes a week later. She had managed to keep him out of the detention center, but she’d had to fly back to New York both times to get him, and she couldn’t help but wonder if Toby was getting into so much trouble as an excuse to keep his sister around.

That thought made Sarah feel guilty. She knew that she wasn’t there for her brother when she should have been. In fact, when the accident had occurred, she had been over in Los Angeles with the company she worked for. She’d received a phone call stating that her parents had been broadsided by an eighteen-wheeler, and there were no survivors, and could she please come home? In shock, she’d flown home that night and spent the next day with Toby, crying and comforting each other in between planning the funeral and trying to sell the house and things in it.

She’d packed up everything she couldn’t bear to part with, and had it shipped to a distant relative in the country who owned a large house. Then she’d arranged for Toby to live with the neighbors whenever she was on tour, and after all that was done, she threw herself into her work to ease the depression and pain she felt building like a volcano inside her. Acting was the only way she had to release it, and she poured herself into it, even though it ended up leaving poor Toby farther and farther behind…

It was no wonder he’d become the way he was, sullen and moody and depressed, completely unlike the gentle little boy she’d left behind. And it was all her fault. She knew it, and even before she’d fallen sick she knew that he was in real trouble, that she stood on the verge of losing him as well, if she didn’t change her ways. All that, plus the pressure of having to be the best at what she did…it had finally taken its toll. "If only I had paid more attention to Toby," Sarah whispered as she felt a tear trickle down her face. "Maybe he and I would be okay." What sickened her the most, however, was that what she had done to Toby was the same thing that Linda Williams, her real mother, had done to her. Linda had basically chosen career over family, leaving her poor daughter behind in the dust. **One would think I’d have learned a lesson,** Sarah thought darkly. **But I guess I always was the last to figure anything out…**

Well, she intended to do something about that right now! Dr. Thompson walked into her room just then, and smiled at her. "How are you feeling?" he asked kindly.

"Ready to get out of the hospital," she replied with a wry smile. "Any chance of that happening soon? I’ve been in here a week!"

He scratched his chin. "Well, now, I suppose that’s okay," he replied. "But you just remember what I said about working yourself so hard! You are not to return to the stage until your strength has fully returned."

"Yes, I know," she replied meekly. "Actually, I was thinking of maybe taking a little trip. A vacation," she added hurriedly, seeing his suspicious glance. "I’ve been having some trouble with my little brother, Toby. He and I don’t get to see each other often, because I’m gone so much. I have a distant relative who lives out in the country, not very far from here. I haven’t seen her in years, not since before my parents died. The last time I was there was for her husband’s funeral. After that, well…everything happened all at once, you know? She’s a great-aunt-twice-removed or something like that. She used to be an actress, too, back in the early days. She got me to love acting as much as my mother did." Sarah smiled fondly at the memories. "I want to take Toby out there. He probably doesn’t remember her, but she’s got animals and stuff. I know Toby used to love animals."

"I think that’s a fine idea," Dr. Thompson replied warmly. "Just so long as you be sure to take it easy. Would you like to call her?"

"Well, that’s the thing." Sarah chewed on her lip. "I don’t think she has a telephone. My dad and step-mom had always corresponded with her through letters, and I don’t even know if she’s alive yet. She’s kind of a recluse now. I have her address at home, but she lives in a single house with nothing but wilderness around, so it’s not going to be easy getting hold of her…"

"But you’d like to try," Dr. Thompson finished with an understanding smile.

Relieved, Sarah smiled back at him. "Yes," she conceded. "I’d like to try."

Second Chances

A Labyrinth Story
by Stormlight

Part 3 of 18

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