What Matters Most
by Dianne Maguire
There is good love and bad love. Good sex and bad sex. And sometimes it's hard to know the difference.
Paediatrician and mother Mia Sandhurst is scraping to keep her marriage together after her husband of 25 years breaks her heart. Finally facing reality, Mia embarks on a series of outlandish new behaviours to make startling discoveries about herself, love and life.
But the lies and betrayal Mia endures are nothing compared to those of her 15 year old patient, Rachel Hooper.
Set on the magical coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula, What Matters Most is a story of love, family, misplaced loyalty and how our choices shape who we are.
When her family arrived, Rachel’s condition was stable, but she was still in a coma.
Mia left the treatment room for the waiting area to see Jack in discussion with a short, round woman wearing a brown coat and woollen cap from which locks of red hair fading to grey seemed to be struggling for an escape. Her chin jutted as though she was fighting for her life, and even from a distance Mia could see her blue eyes bulging with anger. Beside her, a dungareed man of medium stature, with the stoop that comes from back neglect, listened with no show of emotion or facial expression, his hands clasped behind his back. Tim, morosely silent but actively listening, held the hand of a boy aged about seven whose round face, topped with a mop of dark hair like his sister’s, moved silently and intently from his mother to Jack as they each spoke.
‘Mr and Mrs Hooper, I’m Dr Sandhurst.’ Mia stepped up and extended her hand first to Peter, who shook it flaccidly and flicked dark, seemingly bottomless eyes towards her for a brief moment.
‘I’m Annie,’ the woman said with a stiff smile and a perfunctory shake of Mia’s hand. ‘And this is Ben, our youngest.’
‘Hello, Ben.’ Mia shook his hand to elicit a wry grin before leading the way towards a room in the treatment area. Jack bid his farewells in a way that made it clear to Mia that he and the family knew each other well.
The moment they entered the small interview room and sat on the trio of mustard vinyl chairs facing the narrow desk, Annie let forth as though she had held back for long enough.
‘This cannot be true, Dr Sandhurst. It is not like Rachel,’ she said, absently watching Ben climb onto Tim’s knee. ‘Yes … she can be unpredictable … Yes, she’s stubborn about simple things like refusing to have a shower … But to her credit she has never followed the crowd and she would never ever drink alcohol … and as for taking drugs, well it’s just ludicrous to even entertain the idea.’ Her blue eyes shone more than would be natural and she swallowed with difficulty.
Gently closing the door, Mia knew she was about to make a highly provocative suggestion, but she was experienced enough to know the reality — a harsh new reality that had to be faced sooner or later by the family. ‘I gather Rachel was on her own in the lounge room for quite a while, once her friend Cassie had gone to bed and before Tim found her in the bathroom,’ she said sitting on the swivel chair behind the desk. ‘It makes me wonder if she deliberately took the alcohol and drugs with the intention of harming herself.’
Annie sprang from her seat like a giant cork. ‘That’s insulting and ridiculous. How dare you even suggest …’ She promptly sat again as though pushing away any semblance of thought about the words she was about to utter.
Mia cast a glance at Peter’s persistently bland expression, now intently aimed at the mottled blue carpet. Then at Tim, who muttered something about bullshit.
‘No, it’s quite feasible actually,’ Mia persisted, one eyebrow arching. ‘Rachel would not be the first troubled teen to overdose on alcohol or drugs because she is overwhelmed by problems. And she wouldn’t be the last. Hopefully, one of our psychologists will get her to talk about it.’
Annie Hooper’s eyes widened. ‘I’d prefer the shrinks left her alone. They cause more harm than good in my opinion.’
Over the following minutes Mia tried to make allowances for the parents’ rigid denial of the possibility that their daughter was deeply troubled. Shock and even the will to protect family dignity may have been factors, but these people stubbornly refused to relent, despite her most determined efforts at convincing them that much care was needed because their daughter could be in grave danger of making a repeat attempt on her life.
‘Mm, it’s all a bit of a mystery,’ Mia said, finally giving up. ‘But we shall know more when Rachel regains consciousness. The good news is that there doesn’t seem to have been any damage done to her heart muscle.’ She stood and a spontaneous sigh escaped her. ‘You can see Rachel very briefly, then I suggest you go home and get some sleep. That way you’ll be fresh for her tomorrow.
Dianne Maguire is a social worker turned novelist with over 20 years' experience in child welfare and protection.
She has won the Pauline Walsh Prize in the Eastwood/Hills Regional Annual Literary Awards and in 2010 she co-wrote a collection of non-fiction short stories, It's About Time, for children's charity Time for Kids. Her articles have been published in state and national newspapers and magazines.
Although Dianne lives in Adelaide with her husband Jerome, she does most of her writing on the Fleurieu Peninsula. What Matters Most is her debut novel.
Dianne will be awarding an eCopy of What Matters Most to 3 randomly drawn winners via rafflecopter during the tour. Follow the tour HERE