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CHAPTER 22 ~ CONFESSION
Had Gunther not been so distracted by worry about what had happened at home, he would have noticed that Valois was very quiet indeed. Though he helped Gunther to pack his things, arranged the airline tickets, booked a cab to take them to the airport, and sat with Gunther through the interminable wait to board, he barely said a word. Instead, he offered an occasional squeeze of Gunther's hand or a kindly smile, but something was definitely wrong.
Gunther didn't have time to stop and think about that, though, until they were back in Sunset Valley and he was sitting - alone - in the waiting room of the hospital's burns unit. Valois had been refused entry under the hospital's 'Near Relatives Only' policy, and had been forced to amuse himself in the general waiting area.
Sitting by himself in the bland, white corridor with its sparse furnishings lacking in any form of comfort, Gunther suddenly missed Valois's presence in a way that he never had before. Shivering, he tried to focus on what he'd been told: a fire had destroyed the second floor of his home and badly damaged the ones above that, and his wife had been rescued from the blaze. Nobody would tell him how she was, but they had taken the time to reassure him - after his incessant and panicked questions - that no, his young son had not been at home and was quite safe, still at boarding school. For that alone, he could almost forgive Cornelia for her selfish decision to send Mortimer away.
What Gunther needed right now was the one thing he couldn't have: Valois's arms around him, and Valois's gentle voice in his ear, reassuring him that everything would be all right. But this was on him alone to cope with, and while he knew that the world would understand that he was shaken, it also expected to see the upstanding founding father of the town and CEO of its biggest corporation to show a stiff upper lip and get calmly on with his life, rebuilding his home and getting back to work while showing the caring face of a loving husband.
He couldn't even figure out why he was so distraught. After all, it wasn't as if he and Cornelia were still deeply in love - indeed they hadn't been for a long time - but he realised that it was possible to be married to someone for so long, to have been in love with them for many of those years, and to still care for their safety in some way, even if it had all gone to shit in the meantime. God alone knew he wouldn't wish her dead or disfigured, no matter how much he disliked her by the time their marriage had collapsed.
He looked up, pulled out of his miserable reverie by a kindly, professional voice.
"Dr Hoffman," the man said, as he sat down beside Gunther. "I've been treating your wife's injuries. Sorry to have kept you waiting. There was an incident at the train station and it was all hands on deck for a couple of hours."
He opened the manila file that he held, consulting it for a moment. "I'm pleased to tell you that Mrs Goth suffered no disfiguring or life-threatening injuries. She has some superficial burns, but those should heal with only minimal scarring, if any at all. Quite surprising, really, given the extent of the blaze described in the firefighters' report. However, there are some grave concerns about her mental health..."
Gunther closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers. "Please," he said quietly, "don't drag it out. Just tell me."
There was a short pause. "I'm afraid that Mrs Goth is in need of psychiatric help," the doctor continued. "Whether that is a result of the trauma of the fire, or whether it was present before then, we have yet to ascertain. I understand you've been away from the family home for some time?"
"Yes. I was in France, recovering from exhaustion." Gunther sat back in the chair with a sigh, staring up at the ceiling. "I hadn't had a day away from work of some form for almost twelve years."
"Would you say that, before you left, you had noticed any..." Dr Hoffman paused, and then continued delicately, "...instability in your wife's behaviour?"
Gunther just looked at him, and the doctor must have seen the desperation - the need to talk - in his eyes.
"Sir, I assure you that whatever is said here - even though it may go into your wife's records - will be treated with the strictest confidence. With that said, I'll ask again: Did you notice any instability in your wife's behaviour before you left for France?"
Gunther was shocked by how easily the words came out: "Other than making life at home hell for both me and my son, you mean? No."
He heard the sounds of a pen scratching over paper, and when the doctor next spoke his voice was quieter. "Well, given that, do you wish to see your wife? If not, then I can arrange to keep you appraised of her situation at all times."
Gunther's response was a weary smile. "I've had to keep up appearances for a damned long time now, doctor. I'd better continue that, don't you think?"
"Of course." Something in Dr Hoffman's demeanour had changed; a subtle alteration. "I must warn you that the police are waiting to speak with you as well." To Gunther's raised eyebrows, he added: "Purely a formality, given that your home was involved in a fire that seems to have had no discernible cause."
"I understand. They want to ensure I didn't hire a hit-man to finish her off." Again, Gunther sighed. "Christ, as if I would do that to Mortimer, regardless of how I felt about his mother."
Dr Hoffman stood. "As I said, it's purely a formality. Your wife's room is this way. Would you follow me, please?"
Getting to his feet, Gunther trailed after the white coat until they reached a set of double doors, at which point Dr Hoffman paused and turned to look at him.
"Can I just ask if you and your wife were planning to have a child in the near future? Perhaps an attempt to - and please forgive me for the assumption - patch up your marriage?"
"Absolutely not." Gunther lowered his voice, even though they were alone in the corridor. "We hadn't even slept together for about two years. Her decision, not mine."
"I see. Then perhaps it is best for you not to mention your son to her. Or any reference to children or babies. She is currently heavily-sedated because she continually screamed for her baby, and called out the name 'Isabel' over and over."
"Ysabell? That was the name we'd decided on for Mortimer, if he'd been a girl."
"Ah." Again, the doctor paused to scribble a note in the file, ensuring that Gunther couldn't see what he was writing. "Then it may be that the trauma of the fire has regressed her back to a time when she was still pregnant with your son, and... I take it that neither of you wanted to know the sex of your first child?"
"Cornelia wanted it to be a surprise."
"Hm. That fits in with the original psychiatric assessment." Dr Hoffman opened the door quietly. "The nurse in the room will not disturb you, but if you need anything while you're in there, she will arrange to have it fetched for you," he murmured. "There are no visiting hour limits for relatives in this unit, sir. Should you want a bed made up, that can be arranged."
"Thank you." Gunther gave him a wan smile and walked into the room.