Authors: Brandi Kennedy
At the hospital, Michael walked side by side with his brothers; Evan took the protected spot in the middle, just as he had when he'd first learned to walk, back when he had counted on his brothers to hold him up. Now, no longer learning but still the baby of the three, Evan stood tall, his hands in his pockets to hide their shaking. Drew's face was drawn, his lips tight, but he walked with shoulders high and Michael could hear him forcing his breath to come evenly. Michael was the oldest brother, but this time he followed their examples, forcing himself to look fine even though
was the last word he’d use to describe how he felt. His stomach was in knots, but his shoulders were squared. His throat felt like it was closing, but his face was carefully arranged in what he hoped was a tough expression. His heart was hammering in his chest, but his step was steady – until he saw her.
Eva looked small in a way he had never noticed before, one leg thin under the blankets, the other already wrapped in a purple plaster cast. She was sleeping with her broken wrist propped on a pillow, the cast glaring bright purple against the clean white of the pillowcase. Drew and Evan fell away as they entered her room, giving Michael the lead as the oldest brother. He stepped close to the side of her bed, looking down at her as his brothers followed him into the room.
Evan's shoe squeaked slightly against the floor as he moved into place at Michael's right elbow; Eva opened her eyes, smiling as she realized she was not alone. "Hi, boys. Felt like standing around watching an old woman sleep?"
Michael rolled his eyes while his brothers laughed nervously. "You're not old, mom. You can't even retire."
She smiled, shaking her head. "I told your dad not to call you kids down here. I'm going home tomorrow anyway. I could have just stayed here and went home; you didn't even need to know about it."
Evan snickered, reaching out to tap the edge of the cast on her wrist. "Right," he said. "None of us would ever have noticed the cast."
"I wouldn't," Drew said, forcing a tense smile as he looked at their mother. "And certainly not
casts. I mean, it's not like I get paid to notice stuff or anything."
"You kidders. Where are your sisters, then? They were here a while ago and we were watching TV ... I guess I dozed off. The pills they gave me for pain knock me right out." She sounded strong, just like always, but tired. The gash on the upper curve of her cheek was unbandaged because it was so close to her eye, but the stitching was neat and clean. She flipped a lock of dark blonde hair from her face, looked up at her sons, and smiled. "Stop looking at me like I'm dying. I'm fine; it's just a little break. Or two." She caught the look of protest on Michael's face and reached up to pat his forearm, braced against the bedrail. "I'm really okay, son. I'd tell you, if I wasn't."
Michael forced a smile to his lips, covering his mother's hand with his own. "If you say so. I'm gonna go find dad and the girls – let them know we're here." As he backed away from the bed, Evan stepped closer, closing ranks with Drew. Drew looked up though, to meet Michael's eyes, and they exchanged a look as only the closest brothers can, a look that passed the watchman's job from one brother to the next. Drew nodded, accepting the burden, and Michael turned away. In the hall, he found a nurse making her way from room to room. He stopped her, one hand lightly touching her upper arm to catch her attention. "Miss, can you tell me anything about the patient in two-nineteen? It's my mother, the one who was admitted after a car accident this morning ..."
"Right," the nurse answered distractedly, poking a stylus pen into the fluff of her hair. She was a short, plump woman with graying curls and a voice wobbly with age, legs encased in compression stockings and a soft, wrinkled face. "Well, I can't really tell you much just yet, honey," she went on, "other than what you probably already know if you've been in to see her. The leg and the wrist are broken. We're still waiting for lab results and a few other things. But the doctor should be in shortly to go over everything, and he'll be able to answer all of your questions then."
"Well thanks so much for your help," Michael muttered sarcastically, watching the older woman's back as she busily walked away. He sighed, turning toward the door to the waiting room as he pulled his cell phone from his pocket. Composing a text that read only,
"Are you here?”
he moved into the contacts menu and selected his sisters, Cameron and Harmony, his father Adam, and Drew's wife, Cass.
"Oh, Michael, you're here. I was hoping Drew could track you down. We tried to call, but you weren't answering and I know the shop is closed today but we thought maybe you were there or –"
"Hey, hey, relax." The unsent text now forgotten, Michael looked up just in time to catch Cameron as she stepped into his arms. Her curls were soft against the bottom of his chin, and her hands were shaking slightly as she pressed them against his back. Looking over her head, he could see her adopted son, Logan, sitting quietly in the seat next to Harmony. "Hey, where's Mac?" Mac was Cameron's husband, and Logan was the son of Mac's first marriage. Mac had lost his first wife to cancer, and so when Cameron and Mac had married, she had been quick to adopt his son.
Cameron sniffled against Michael's chest, releasing him to step reluctantly away. "He's still out of town, remember? He's speaking at the psych conference? Today's his day to speak, so the soonest he can fly out to come home is tonight."
"Right." Michael lifted his chin in a silent salute to Harmony, who had looked up to wave at him from her seat. She had changed so much since she started wrestling – had grown much more confident. She seemed to have finally stopped trying so hard, and instead, simply settled into who she was. Michael was unbelievably proud of the young woman she had become – and though he always thought of Harmony as his "baby" sister, he had to admit, when she had found her career in wrestling, Harmony had become a force all her own. Much as his own marital failure saddened him, he was looking forward to watching Harmony walk down the aisle and take her wedding vows with Xander Harrison, a fellow wrestler with the company she worked for.
As if he had been summoned by Michael's thoughts, Xander now stepped into the doorway on the other end of the waiting room, his wide muscular shoulders filling the doorframe. He wore a long-sleeved pullover shirt with jeans, a dark green cap pulled low on his head. Michael and Cameron watched together as Xander looked around the room; he found Harmony easily and made his way over to her, grumbling quietly. "I meant to stay with your dad and Renee," he said, turning in his seat to drape a muscled arm over Harmony's shoulders. "But I think someone recognized me. I swear, I can't go anywhere anymore."
Leaning comfortably against Xander's side, Harmony laughed. "Perks of being a star," she answered. "I wouldn't know anything about that, though – no one recognizes
Xander laughed too, quietly. "Maybe I should start pointing you out, then."
"And maybe I'll have Minx teach me how to wrap you up and pin you."
He laughed again, squeezing her shoulders to bring her closer. "You can pin me whenever you like, babe." He kissed the tip of her nose, smiled gently, and went on. "Any more news about your mom?"
As Harmony shook her head silently against Xander's shoulder, Michael turned back to Cameron. "Renee's here, too?"
Cameron nodded, shaking her head as she tried to hide a smile. "She rode in with Cass, but then Cass had to get to work. So she took Renee's car, and Renee said she'd hang out today until someone could take her home. I guess Cass is supposed to drop Renee’s car at her house later – Drew will follow her and take her home. We’ll have to figure Renee out, though, since her car won’t be here."
Michael shrugged. "I can take her later; I came with Drew and Evan, but I drove my truck since Drew was still in the patrol car."
"Yeah, he hasn't even been home since he got off. He worked all night last night."
Shaking his head, Michael dragged a rough palm over his face, before dropping his hand on Cameron's shoulder. "Alright, I'll make him go home in a bit. I'm gonna go find Dad and Renee first though. You okay here?"
Cameron nodded, her eyes sparkling with amusement as she reached out to squeeze Michael's hand. "Right. You go find Renee," she said. "I know you need her right now. But Michael ... don't let Dad forget Logan's lunch.”
Michael rolled his eyes. "Yeah, like Dad would forget food." He chose not to respond to Cameron's sly comment about his needing Renee. Of course he needed Renee, she was his best friend.
In the hall, Michael took a deep breath, his back pressed against the wall as he waited for the elevator that would take him downstairs. He tried to reassure himself that his mother was fine, that if something serious had been wrong, someone would have told him already. But in the back of his mind, he couldn't shake the fact that people didn't just wreck their cars for no reason. Eva Kingsley was a responsible woman – she wouldn't have been doing anything reckless. So, what had caused her accident? He could only hope it wasn't something serious.
He wasn't looking when the elevator arrived, having dropped his head back against the wall. His eyes were closed, and there was no sound to indicate that the elevator car had arrived on his floor. He smelled Renee's perfume though, as the doors parted with a swish that brought him away from the wall.
She stepped out, long hair shining, dark eyes narrowed with concern. "Michael?" She stepped out of the elevator in a breeze of coconut, the summery scent mixed with something faintly floral. She had a drink carrier in each hand, and as she stepped out of the elevator, she blew uselessly at an errant strand of hair sticking to her lip gloss. "Hey, I’m glad you made it. Where are Drew and Evan? I’m assuming they’re the ones who found you?"
"They're with mom." As she moved closer, Michael reached out to brush the hair from her face, tucking the lock of soft strands behind her ear. "I came to find you and my dad – see if you guys needed any help.” He watched her eyes for a quiet moment, his hand still resting lightly on her forearm. “Thank you,” he said, the word finally slipping around the lump that wouldn’t leave his throat. “I’m glad you came.”
Renee shrugged, biting her lip gently as she looked away. “Well, you guys are like family now.” The words were spoken softly, and her chin trembled slightly in the silence that fell between them. “I just … wanted to be here. In case there was anything I could do. I figured you’d have your family around you, but I wanted you to know that –“ She broke off, looking away.
Michael waited, but the silence remained, and when she turned and started walking back toward the waiting room where Michael had found Cameron and Harmony, he simply followed, confused. Before he reached to open the door though, Renee stopped and took a breath, squaring her shoulders as she turned to look up at him. “I wanted you to know that if you need someone … I’m here.”
He smiled, reaching out to open the door for her. “Is that so?”
“It is,” she answered, dipping her head to walk under his arm and into the waiting room.
The scent of her perfume drifted behind her, and Michael swallowed as the beachy smell of a coconut breeze hit him. Damn, he loved that smell! “Wait – Renee?” She turned back to look at him and Michael hesitated, frozen by the soft look in her eyes. Clearing his throat, he reached out to take one of the two coffee carriers from her. “I just remembered – Cameron said Dad was supposed to be bringing up some lunch for Logan.”
“He is. I guess he’s probably on his way up by now. When I left him, he was still waiting for Logan's food to be finished. I offered to wait with him, but he said he didn't want all the coffee to get cold.” She smiled up at him, shrugging, and then turned away as Harmony and Xander crossed the room to retrieve their drinks.
By the time everyone had something to drink, including Michael, Drew, and Evan, Xander and Harmony had gone to take their turn visiting Eva – and Adam had arrived in the waiting room with Logan’s lunch. Cameron had taken the boy over to a table in the corner, and they were chatting quietly together as he ate. Michael smiled as he watched Logan tap Cameron on the tip of her nose; she ruffled his hair, laughing, and stole a potato chip from his plate.
“She’s really good with him, isn’t she?” Renee nudged his elbow with her own, drawing his attention. She had been watching, too; when Michael turned to look at her, she was still looking at Cameron and Logan. “They look made for each other. He even tips his head the same way she does. Look, there they go.”
Michael turned back, watching Cameron play quietly with her son. “It's funny how that happens,” he said. “It hasn’t been that long, but they look like they’ve always been together.” He waited a while, sitting quietly with Renee beside him. “I thought I’d have that myself, you know? By now.”
“Me too,” Renee answered softly.
“You getting excited for your date?”
“Not really.” Her throat bobbed as she swallowed. “He’s not really my type, I guess. But maybe I don’t have a type, right? I mean, I’m in my thirties now. Still single. I feel like – I don’t know. Like I owe it to myself to at least try, you know? So I’m going. But honestly, I’d rather just watch a movie with you or something.” She shrugged, her knee brushing against his as she moved to cross her legs. “Maybe I’m just meant to be a spinster,” she sighed. “Like in the old days? Or one of those creepy old ladies that’s all alone but has seventeen stray cats?”
Michael laughed. “You know, happily married, perfectly beautiful women like cats too, Renee. And men. Men like cats.”
Renee rolled her eyes, shaking her head; she laughed too, though. "You don't."
"Only because one of those furry little bastards tried to kill me once."
She laughed again, slapping his arm. “It did not! When?”
"When I was three and I tried to pull his tail off." Michael shrugged, grinning. “I just wanted to borrow it though. It was bushy. But he wasn’t very good at sharing.”
“Yeah. I’m totally sure
was the problem. It was a totally selfish cat.” Renee shook her head.
"Well,” Michael said, "he was.''
Renee looked up as the waiting room door opened. "I think it's your turn to go sit with your mom,'' she said, nudging Michael's elbow.
"Yeah." He stood slowly, stretching his hands above his head with a low groan, as Harmony and Xander stepped into the room. He watched as they made their way over to Adam, smiling softly when Harmony bent down to kiss their father's forehead. "You guys leaving?" he called.
After a quiet exchange with Adam, Harmony straightened. "Yeah, we have to." She pursed her lips, pouting slightly before she went on. "We're on the show tonight and Xander's match has been set for weeks. It can’t really be changed."
"And Mom yelled at you for offering to stay?"
Harmony laughed. "She sure did. Said she wanted to watch and she'd be mad if we didn't go." Shrugging, she glanced over at Renee. "I told her you've been here all day, and she says you're to come down the hall with Michael."
"Hmm," Renee answered, looking up at Michael before bringing her eyes back to Harmony's face. "Am I in trouble?"
Grinning, Harmony shook her head, her ponytail swinging behind her. Her blue eyes sparked with laughter; she glanced from Renee to Michael and back again. Renee arched her eyebrows in question, and Harmony laughed, shaking her head again. "No, she wants to thank you," she said. "For taking care of Michael, and –"
"Hey!" Michael interrupted. "I resent that!"
“Resemble that, you mean.” Harmony teased. “Everyone knows men need caretakers; that’s why God made women in the first place.”
From behind Harmony, Xander snorted, reaching out to drag her under his arm. She yelped, still laughing, her small fists playfully pummeling his sides. Xander laughed with her, finally releasing her, and she shot a mocking glare his way as she reached up to fix her mussed ponytail. “You know it’s true,” she said, sticking her tongue out.
“Not very nice to make us admit it though,” Xander answered, trying to force his smiling face into a scowl.
Harmony laughed again, slipping her hand through the bend of Xander’s elbow. “Alright, alright. I was only kidding, anyway.”
“Liar.” Finally giving up the effort to look annoyed, Xander pulled Harmony closer and dropped his arm over her shoulders. “Come on, let’s get going. They’ll be looking for us at work.”