Authors: Rebecca Barber
Copyright © 2016 by Rebecca Barber.
All rights reserved.
First Print Edition: September 2016
Limitless Publishing, LLC
Kailua, HI 96734
Formatting: Limitless Publishing
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
My rock. My best friend. My biggest cheerleader. My greatest supporter.
And the person who never hesitates to kick my ass when I need it.
Table of Contents
He’d always been there. Always there in the big moments.
At four, he was my first husband. Our wedding in the sandpit of our preschool came complete with daisy chain necklaces and his twin brother standing beside him as his best man.
At eight he gave me my first kiss. Behind the athletic shed one day after school, playing a wild game of spin the bottle. Chapped lips and nervous as hell, he’d kissed me so gently…almost like I was a doll that might break if he pressed too hard.
At eleven he became my fiercest competitor and biggest rival. Three nights a week we would push ourselves almost to the point of exhaustion as we each tried to outdo the other as we raced up and down the pool. Lap after lap we tested each other, taking it in turns to come out victors. Bragging rights on the line.
At seventeen he was the boy who took my virginity. Down by the river one balmy afternoon, on a picnic rug with sticks and stones digging into my back while mozzies bombed us. We hadn’t planned it―at least I hadn’t―but after an afternoon of swimming and one too many shots of stolen butterscotch schnapps, one thing led to another.
At twenty-two, the night after the man I thought would be the father of my future children left me broken hearted and my so-called best friends dragged me to the local pub to “get over the douchebag”―there he was. Taller than I remembered and more muscled than I could have dreamt. Without words, he’d simply wrapped his arms around me and together we danced the night away. That night he helped me to forget.
He’d always been there. Through the good and the bad, I knew he was there. No matter how great the distance was between us, or how long it had been since we’d last spoken, he was always there when I needed him. Right now, when I needed him more than ever, there he was. Towering over my hospital bed, watching over me. My protector. My saviour. My knight in shining armour.
“Zoe. Zoe, come back to me, sweetheart,” a deep, rich voice cooed in my ear.
I could feel the warmth of his breath on my neck as his fingers intertwined with mine. With all the strength I could muster I willed my eyes to open. They cracked open, just a fraction. I needed a glimpse. I just needed to see him with my own two eyes. I needed confirmation that the man holding my hand was the one I knew I could always rely on. They just felt so damn heavy. I tried to open my mouth to say something but nothing came out. I knew my lips were dry and chapped. I could still taste the metallic tinge in my mouth. Everything was just too hard.
“Come on, Zoe, I know you can do it. Just squeeze my fingers. Please, Zoe, I need to know you’re still in there,” he pleaded. Although his voice was soft and steady I could feel the heartbreak behind his words. In that moment I knew I didn’t need to see his face. I already knew the answer. Spencer was here with me. My body knew it too. As soon as I managed to put all the pieces of the puzzle together despite my drug-induced stupor, the aches eased. The throbbing in my head dulled. I exhaled heavily. Spencer was here and that meant everything would be okay. It took barely seconds for me to slip back into the dreamland where I was safe and nothing hurt.
I couldn’t help it. I could barely control it. I wanted to hit someone. Something. Anything. I didn’t give a fuck what. The rage inside me was bubbling furiously and unless I relaxed or released some of the pent up tension soon I was sure I’d explode and whoever happened to be the unfortunate soul standing closest to me when that inevitably happened, they’d cop it. Right now I had no fucks to give.
I sat there beside Zoe’s bed staring at my girl. She was battered and bruised and bleeding, yet to me, she was still undeniably beautiful. Perfect even. I wanted her to wake up and tell me to pull my head in. I needed her to wake up and calm me. More than that, I needed her to wake up and show me, prove to me that she was all right. ’Cause right now, from where I was sitting, she looked anything but.
“Zoe. Zoe, come back to me, sweetheart. Please…” I begged. I knew if anyone else heard me in that moment I’d never live it down. I didn’t give a shit. No one mattered right now. No one but Zoe.
I watched her, desperately willing her to open her eyes. If I could have done it for her I would have, right now though, Zoe was the one who needed to be strong. She was the one who had to open her beautiful caramel eyes. I knew the moment I saw her eyes staring up at me I’d be okay. She’d be okay. We’d be okay. I wouldn’t let her be anything else but she had to take the first step. I could do nothing but wait. Something I was definitely not good at.
“Come on, Zoe, I know you can do it. Be strong for me. Just squeeze my fingers. Please Zoe, I need to know you’re still in there,” I pleaded. Still no movement.
I looked up and checked the monitors above her head. For the past couple of hours their constant, consistent beeping kept me sane. It reminded me she was still there. Stealing another glance, I watched the steady rhythm of her heartbeat illuminated in green across the inky black screen. I’d never been more thankful to a piece of machinery in my life.
I felt it before I heard it. Zoe exhaled deeply before shifting her weight slightly and settling once again. She didn’t let go of my hand. If anything she somehow managed to twist us together even more without waking. I didn’t give a shit. It wasn’t like I was going anywhere anytime soon. She could hold my hand as long and as tight as she wanted. I had no intentions of leaving my girl. At least not anytime in the foreseeable future.
The doctor came through the door and I was shocked by the relief that flooded my body. There was something calming, comforting about his presence. He had salt and pepper hair, square glasses perched high on his straight nose, and a nondescript wooden clipboard in his hand. His white lab coat floated behind him like a cape. There was an air of superhero about the way he breezed through the door, and even if I didn’t want to admit it aloud, inside I was praying furiously that beneath the coat he was dressed head to toe in lycra. I needed to believe he really did have super powers.
“Morning,” I said stiffly, rising from the chair.
He watched as I attempted to untangle my fingers from Zoe’s, but I felt a warm hand on my shoulder as soon as I did.
“Don’t,” he instructed, his voice rich with authority. “I can check on her from this side. She needs to know she’s not alone. So…if you don’t mind holding her…”
I didn’t let him finish. I didn’t need to. For me, there was no decision. “I’m not moving,” I declared adamantly.
Taken aback, he looked at me warily, I couldn’t blame him. I was covered in mud and grass and blood. So much blood. So much of Zoe’s blood. There was no way I was leaving her side to get cleaned up. Not yet. I knew I’d have to soon, God knows I didn’t want the first thing Zoe saw when she came to was me covered in reminders, but right now I didn’t have the strength to walk away. Not even for a second.
“Okay then.” He smiled a tight, serious smile. “I’m Dr. Davies and I’ll be looking after Zoe while she’s here. I wasn’t on shift when she came in…”
“When I brought her in…” I corrected. As soon as the words fell from my lips I felt like an ass, but I wasn’t about to apologise. This was Zoe. Zoe was the one lying on the bed between us. My Zoe. If he was going to be treating her, then he was going to have his facts straight.
Sensing my frustrations, he apologized quickly, “As I was saying, I wasn’t here when you brought her in, but from now on I’ll be overseeing her case.”
Taking another look at the man, I knew I’d judged him too harshly. He was there to help. I needed him on my side. Zoe needed him. Right now, that was all that mattered. Sucking in a breath, I thrust my hand out over the bed. “Good to meet you, Doc. I’m Spencer McLaren. I’m an old friend of Zoe’s.” For some reason I felt the need to explain. I didn’t want him judging me. Not the way I’d judged him.
“Okay, Spencer. I’m going to take a look. If you feel the need to step out for a moment, I understand.”
I didn’t know whether to be offended or worried. Or perhaps both. I wasn’t a medical expert―I never pretended to be―yet I was seriously shitting myself about what was about to happen. Either way, I wasn’t going anywhere.
“I’m good,” I assured him. As soon as I said the words, I realized maybe I wasn’t so much assuring him, but instead confirming it. Whatever. It didn’t matter. I had to focus my energy on Zoe.
I watched with morbid fascination as he examined her. He started with her head, checking the stitches on her hair line, the nasty gash that was still slowly oozing blood above her eye, and the scratches on her chin and cheek. When he lifted her wrist I saw the ugly red welts that had begun to form. I felt the lump in my throat grow and quickly swallowed it back down forcefully. This was harder than I imagined. Watching him unwrap her hand and carefully examine finger by finger was excruciating. You didn’t have to be a doctor to know that some of those fingers were broken. Her pinky was off on a wonky angle and I knew she wouldn’t be using it anytime soon. As delicately as he could, he re-wrapped her hand and placed it beside her on the bed.
Grabbing his clipboard once again he scribbled down his notes. Notes about Zoe. Part of me wanted to grab the clipboard and find out what was really going on, but the other part, the chicken shit side, reminded me that I didn’t really want to know.
He walked to the end of the bed and folded back the blankets from her feet. Her tiny toes were red from cold, yet it was the faint outline of blood surrounding some of her nails that caught my breath. In that moment it was all too much. I understood the doctor’s warnings. I wanted to run screaming from the room, but I held firm. Stealing a glance at Zoe, I started tracing circles on her palm with my thumb. I wanted her to know she wasn’t alone. She never would be. I’d stand beside her as she faced this head on. Even God himself couldn’t save anyone if they dare try to interfere.
“You okay there?” he asked.
I couldn’t splutter the words. I had to be confident. Strong. Zoe’s hero. The truth was I felt like a failure at that too. Instead, I nodded mutely.
“Why don’t you go find something to eat?” he suggested. “You look a bit pale. I’ll be here for a while yet, so she won’t be alone. I promise.” His eyes were full of honesty and I couldn’t help it. Instantly I understood why people trusted him. I trusted him…with the most precious thing in my life. She was lying right there in front of me barely conscious, yet somehow I trusted him.
“Okay,” I grumbled as I untangled our fingers.
After dropping a soft kiss on Zoe’s forehead, careful to avoid the damage, I leant forward and whispered in her ear, “I’ll be right back, pretty girl. Don’t you go anywhere on me, okay?” Stepping back, I watched as Zoe’s eyelids fluttered but didn’t open. It took a full minute for me to realize they weren’t going to.
“I’ll be right here,” Dr. Davies reassured me as he patted my shoulder supportively.
“Okay,” I replied, forcing a tight smile. “Won’t be long.”