Heart of Hope

Prologue

The fluorescent light above the hard vinyl bench where Bristol Quinn sat buzzed like a determined insect against a window screen. The doctor was still talking, but all Bristol could hear was the buzz.

Her sister was dead. Buzz.

“Head trauma… damage too extensive.” Buzz. Buzz.

“Nothing more we can do.” Buzz.

She heard her mother’s stifled sob and mechanically wrapped an arm around the woman’s waist. Her father’s strong arm already rested on her shoulders like a lifeline. Together they would keep her anchored to this world. Bristol’s older sister, Savannah, stood next to her, shaking her head from side to side as she tried to simultaneously process and reject the news.

“I’m very sorry,” the doctor said, sinking down in front of them. “And I know this is a very difficult thing to hear, but Hope could still save a lot of lives.”

Her little sister was the youngest EMT in Hope Falls history and had been studying to become a trauma surgeon. The young woman who had more life in her eyes than most people did in their entire bodies was gone. It wasn’t possible.

Bristol cleared her throat. The words came out in a stranger’s voice. “You’re talking about organ donation?” she asked.

He had tired, sad eyes nearly the same shade of gray as the hair that peeked out from under the green of his scrub cap. Bristol wondered how many times he’d had this conversation in the course of his career. Could someone ever become insulated, if not immune, from tiptoeing into the lives of families only to destroy the reality they’d held so dear?

How was she going to tell Violet that her beloved aunt, the woman who had helped raise her, was gone? Bristol shuddered at the thought. As her mother, it was her job to protect Violet. But there would be no softening this blow for either of them.

He nodded. “I know this is a difficult request to consider, especially at a devastating time like this. But we only have a small window of time.”

Bristol forced herself to look at her father. Big Bob Quinn was a man of few words and a spine of iron. His normally smiling face was now uplifted toward the buzzing light, his broad shoulders shaking as a silent pain wracked his body. His eyes closed, and his lips were moving as if begging to wake up from a nightmare. Her mother, Mary, with her dark chestnut hair and Italian olive skin, leaned unblinkingly against her husband of thirty-one years. Savannah, the oldest of the Quinn girls, clutched the hand of her fiancé, Vincent. Her hazel eyes were red with tears that threatened to never stop flowing.

No one spoke.

“I think we should do it,” Bristol said, mustering up a confidence that she didn’t quite feel yet.

“I just don’t know,” Mary said, her voice as tight and frayed as an old thread. “I don’t know.”

Bristol squeezed her mother around the waist. “Mom, Hope would have wanted this. It’s who she is.” Her voice broke. She wasn’t ready to change the tense of her little sister’s life.

Savannah nodded. “We should do it,” she echoed. “It’s the right thing.”

The doctor, whose name Bristol had forgotten the moment he’d spoken it, looked down at his hands. “I met Hope when she started her residency here. She was a very bright star in the emergency department.”

Mary nodded, her mouth pinched in a tight line as if to hold back the wave of grief that threatened to overtake her. “Please donate her organs. It’s what she would want.”

Bristol’s father reached out and put a large hand on the doctor’s arm. “Please make her matter. Make this mean something.”

“Mr. Quinn, I promise that this is the right decision. You will never regret this choice, and countless families will be grateful to you and your family for life.”

* * *

Eight months later…

Dear Hope’s Heart Recipient,

What a strange way to address a letter, but I don’t have a name to go with the person who now has my sister’s heart. In a way, besides our entire town stepping in to help us honor Hope’s life, the biggest comfort my family has had in the past several months is the knowledge that our Hope lives on in you and the other recipients.

But this isn’t a sad letter. I’m going to ask you for a favor, and I don’t want to guilt you into it. Now, back to buttering you up.

My name is Bristol. I’m Hope’s sister, and I hope that your recovery is going well. I thought maybe you’d like to know a bit about the woman whose heart you received because, frankly, she was pretty awesome. Hope was in medical school and planning to become a trauma surgeon, which pretty much put the rest of the family to shame for our career choices. I basically serve coffee for a living, and my older sister is an attorney who specializes in divorce, but Hope has been saving lives since she became an EMT at eighteen.

Of course, that’s not the whole picture. She loved cats, the fatter the better. She hated sweet potatoes with a passion. She had zero interest in fashion and makeup, which the rest of the family joked was her primary reason for wanting to be a doctor. She owned more sets of scrubs than t-shirts. Hope loved slapstick comedy, and she snorted when she laughed. She loved to sing, even though she had the opposite of talent. She didn’t have much time to read or watch TV, but when she did find the time, she preferred scary books and shows and then slept with the lights on.

Her favorite food was chocolate anything, and when she was a little girl, she wanted to be a garbage man when she grew up. She took ballet until she broke out in a spontaneous breakdancing routine in the middle of a recital when she was seven. She made the best pecan pie the world has ever known, and she once fell down the stairs running away from a bird that hopped through an open window in our parents’ house.

So the reason I’m writing is two-fold. I thought you might like to know something about your new heart, and I’m back to that favor.

My older sister is getting married between Thanksgiving and Christmas. She considered postponing it, but to be honest, our family could use a shot of happiness. It would mean the world to all of us if you would consider attending the wedding. The ceremony will take place at Hope Falls Community Church at 4 p.m. on December 15, and the reception will be a huge party afterwards at Mountain Ridge Convention Center.

I hope you’ll consider joining us. Meeting you and knowing that our sister lives on through you would be the best Christmas present I could ask for. But no pressure. Okay, maybe a little bit of pressure. Just kidding. If I don’t hear back from you, I completely understand. There’s something to be said for only looking forward in life, and I hope that your future is full of love, happiness, and all good things.

Hopefully yours,

Bristol Quinn

P.S. If you develop a sudden craving for putting ruffled potato chips on your peanut butter and jelly sandwich, that’s all Hope.