Authors: Brandi Kennedy
It wasn’t long after Harmony and Xander left that the hospital staff underwent its evening shift change. The day shift’s by-the-books nurse signed off, and the evening shift began with an introduction to a new nurse, who shook her head and scoffed at the two-at-a-time visitor’s rule. “Go on,” she told the family, smiling kindly. “There’s no reason for all of you to be sitting in here taking turns. It’s not like Mrs. Kingsley is under intensive care, and she
in a private room. So go on in, spend the evening with her. S’long as you’re quiet about it, I will be too. But you must all be out of there by eleven or I’ll end up in trouble.” At this point, she lowered her voice and whispered conspiratorially, “But I
get a pull-out chair brought in, though – in case of someone’s wanting to stay the night with Mrs. Kingsley?”
Adam stepped forward to accept her offer, and within the hour, Eva Kingsley was surrounded by members of her family. Cameron’s best friend Tabitha had come to take Logan home for the evening, and Cass had also arrived, fresh faced and bearing food for the family. The family chatted together over takeout sandwiches and cartons of soup, trying to guess what had caused Eva’s accident in the first place.
“The car was acting fine, though?” Michael asked, swallowing a bite of his turkey club sandwich. The paper crackled as he folded it back, and he watched his mother tip her soup carton to fish for a dumpling.
“Mmm, I can’t believe how good this is. Maybe even better than mine,” she said, tucking the dumpling into her cheek. “The car was fine, Michael. I really don’t know what happened.”
Cameron looked up from a steaming carton of basil tomato soup. “I hope nothing serious is wrong, mom. I mean, you left Harmony’s fitting to go home for a nap, right?” She waited as Eva nodded slowly, and then said, “Yeah. I remember being surprised, because you usually don’t sleep in the day time. Have you been that tired lately?”
“Just this morning,” Eva answered, shaking her head. She settled her soup carton on the side of her bed table and reached for her sandwich, grimacing as a piece of tomato fell out onto her plate. “One handed eating,” she grumbled. “This is going to be ridiculous.” Michael exchanged a look with Evan, who lowered his face to hide a smile as Eva went on. “Anyway, no, I was just tired because I hadn’t slept well last night. I had the strangest dreams. I doubt I’d have been able to nap anyway, even if I had made it home. Really, all of you. I’m fine. Maybe I was just more tired than I realized.” She shrugged; having stuffed her tomato slice back into her sandwich, she lifted it and took a hearty bite.
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Adam agreed, though he kept his eyes on his dinner. He had been unnaturally quiet throughout the day, and Michael had noticed that he kept looking at the door to the hospital room, as if he were waiting anxiously for something.
“When was the last time a doctor was in here?” he asked, catching his father’s eye.
Adam shrugged. “This morning. They came in to confirm the fractures in her wrist and leg. Said they had ordered blood work and the normal routine things. Set up the IV,” he said, gesturing to the slender hose that made its way from the crook of Eva’s elbow to the clear bag of intravenous fluids hanging behind her bed. “And someone came in to remove splints on her wrist and leg and wrap the casts after we got up here.” He looked to Eva then, who had been scowling at the cast on her leg. Touching her arm lightly, he asked, “Did anyone come in when we left you to rest?”
“The nurse came, taking blood pressure and temperatures,” Eva shrugged. “I think we’re probably waiting for the night shift doctor to catch up and make his rounds.”
“Well, I wish he’d hurry up,” Evan mumbled, crumpling his sandwich wrapper and tossing it into the bag Cass had been keeping for garbage. “The longer they take, the more –“
“No news is good news, though, right?” Michael broke in.
Just then, a tapping on the door silenced their conversation. Eva straightened against her pillows, settling the rest of her sandwich on the table and swallowing. “It’s alright, come in,” she called.
The door opened slowly, to admit a slender man who looked close to Michael’s age. He wore glasses with bold black frames, a thick, strong mustache, and a bushy but neatly trimmed beard. “Mrs. Kingsley?” he asked, raising his eyebrows in question. His lips thinned as he took in the crowded room, but at Eva’s silent nod, he simply stepped close to her bed and offered her his hand. “Doctor Marsh. I’m sorry to have interrupted your dinner,” he said, giving her hand a gentle shake. “Should I come back? I could finish my rounds and then –“
“No. No, this is fine,” Eva said, pushing her dinner away. “We’ve just been talking about you, actually. Waiting to hear what you might have to say.” She spoke clearly, her voice strong and steady. But the line between her brows had deepened suddenly, and her fingers trembled slightly as she brought her hand up to pat her hair.
The family stood together, listening anxiously as the doctor delivered the news – and they breathed a sigh of relief as they were promised that nothing serious had gone awry. Blood tests revealed that Eva had likely had a short, sudden loss of blood pressure, probably caused by a case of moderate dehydration. The combination of these things could easily explain episodes of fainting, which was what the doctor believed had caused Eva’s accident. “This in itself is simple enough,” he said glancing around the room before returning his focus to Eva herself. “Especially if you already have slightly low blood pressure to begin with, which you do. Unfortunately, I also see dangerously low levels of potassium. Now I don’t know what might be causing that – are you on any sort of diuretics, Mrs. Kingsley?”
She sighed. “I take them occasionally. I used to have to use them a lot when I was younger, but, well, menopause.” She laughed. “It has its blessings, I suppose. But now and then I’ll take something if I’m holding a little water.”
Eva nodded, frowning. “I hadn’t needed it for a while, so I didn’t have any, but I got some to take last week.”
“And you’ve been taking it every day since?”
Michael felt Renee’s shoulder press against his as they stood together, silently watching this exchange. He looked over to find her watching him; she smiled reassuringly and brought her hand up to rest in the center of his back.
“Well, at first it made me jittery, so I didn’t like it,” Eva was saying. “Maybe they’ve changed something in it.”
“Hmm. Some diuretics have an awful lot of caffeine in them; if you aren’t a regular soda or coffee drinker, that could do it.” He waited for Eva’s affirmative nod, and went on, looking down at the tablet he had carried in under his arm. “Alright, so here’s what I want to do, Mrs. Kingsley. What I’m gonna do is keep you here tonight and very possibly tomorrow night. We’re gonna get your potassium levels up, get you hydrated properly. And I think just in case, I’ll order a few scans of your brain. Just to be sure everything’s alright. How’s that sound to you?”
“That’s fine,” Eva answered, laughing. “You’re the doctor, so you make the orders, and I’ll do what I’m told.”
From the corner, Evan snorted. Cameron elbowed him into silence, but not before everyone heard him mutter, “That’ll be the day.” He lowered his face as Adam glared at him, but as Adam lowered his face as well, Michael could see them both hiding smiles identical to one he had attempted to cover with a cough. Beside him, Renee turned her face into his shoulder, grinning, her hand moving up his back to rest near her face. He tried to ignore the way his blood surged through his body at the touch.
Doctor Marsh cleared his throat, pretending not to notice the ripple of humor that had gone through the room. “Well, I’ll let you all get back to your dinner then.” He glanced at his watch, and then back at Adam. “You all know that visiting hours are over at eleven, right?”
After dinner was finished and all the garbage had been stowed away, the family settled in – as best they could, while rotating around the room and taking turns with the three provided chairs – to watch that night’s live broadcast from AWG. American Wrestling Group was the company Xander and Harmony worked for, and they had twice-weekly live broadcasts of their wrestling performances.
Michael laughed when Renee flinched, watching as Harmony was knocked off the side apron of the wrestling ring. “She'll be fine,” he murmured. “She always is. Remember, she loves this.”
"I can't imagine how anyone can love
," Renee answered back, still cringing as Harmony's rival pulled her back into the ring by her hair. According to AWG's creative storylines, Harmony had unfortunately attracted the angry attention of Minx, who had been Xander's on-air escort until just before Harmony was hired. Behind the scenes, it was common knowledge that Harmony had been hired because Minx had wanted to begin a solo wrestling career. But on TV, the rivalry between Harmony and Minx was all about which girl could win – and keep – Xander's affections. Harmony was winning the televised contest, of course, but she was definitely taking a beating along the way.
When Harmony finally rolled Minx into a brutal submission move, Adam and Evan exchanged enthusiastic high fives, but ultimately, Minx fought her way out of the hold, crashed through Harmony with the violent force of a steam engine, and won the match. Finally released from the distraction of the TV, Eva smiled over at Cass. “She’s so tough on TV, it’s hard to remember that she’s the same girl we were zipping into a wedding gown this morning, isn’t it?” Adam grinned amusedly as Eva's blue eyes sparkled with moisture, but Cass reached out to pat her hand in understanding.
“She was beautiful though, and she’ll be a spectacular bride. And oh – that dress!” Cass turned to face Drew, who rolled his eyes. Clearly, he had already heard his wife’s description of Harmony's wedding dress, but he listened – almost patiently – as the splendor of the gown was described again.
Michael listened intently though, trying to imagine his baby sister in her wedding finery. He still so clearly remembered childhood, the five Kingsley kids growing up together – how could they all be so grown up now? Even Evan was grown, and would be escorting Harmony’s best friend, Whitney, down the aisle at the wedding – only a week before, Evan had quietly asked Michael to describe what would be expected of him, and Michael, surprised, had said, “Just walk with her. You escorted guests when Drew married Cass; it’s like that. Just walk her up, hand her off to me, and then just take a seat.”
“I know, but it’s – well, never mind,” Evan had answered. “I got it.”
Now, watching Evan as he took the seat Cass had just vacated, Michael tipped his head in understanding. It was true, Evan had escorted wedding guests to their seats at the last big family wedding. And when Cameron and Mac had married, there had been no need for formal escorts; the wedding party had been virtually non-existent and the audience had been nothing more than a small informal group of family members and close friends. Still, Evan had walked the aisle before. There could only be one reason for him to be so nervous now. Whitney.
Before Michael could get too lost in his contemplation of those possibilities, though, Drew stood too, nudging Renee to get her attention before offering her his seat. “You guys leaving?” Michael asked.
Cass nodded quietly, turning to lift her purse from the windowsill, but it was Drew who answered. “Yeah, we have to,” he sighed. “I’m on patrol again tonight so I need to get home and get some sleep while I can. And Cass has a doctor’s appointment before work tomorrow, so …” His voice trailed off as he looked at his wife. She met his eyes briefly, smiling as she opened her purse and reached inside to retrieve her keys.
“Well,” Eva said, looking quickly from Cass to Drew and back again. “Don’t let us keep you two from your rest. Sounds like a long day for both of you tomorrow.” She adjusted her pillows, shrugging her shoulders to find a comfortable position before lifting her cheek to Drew’s kiss. “Call me tomorrow,” she said, catching his forearm before he turned away. Drew nodded quietly, patting Eva’s hand, and then he and Cass were gone.
It was like an unintentional signal for the end of the evening; Cameron glanced down at the screen of her cell phone, checking the time. Sighing, she stood too, and stretched her arms over her head. “Well, I guess I’d better get going too,” she said to Eva. “I don’t want to keep you up late playing hostess, and I need to get home to check on Logan.” She reached for the mass of curls falling in a tangle down her back, and twisted the curls into a knot around her hand as she leaned down over Eva’s bed. “I’ll see you in the morning though,” she murmured, dropping a quick peck on Eva’s forehead. “And if they send you home, I can bring Logan and stay over for a few days at the house. You know, be there to help with things.”
Eva shook her head, waving her uncasted arm dismissively. “Help with things,” she scoffed. “Goodness, you’re all acting like I’m an eighty-year-old invalid with a broken hip and orders to bed rest. I’m fine, really. They’ll give me crutches or something, and I’ll be just fine.”
“Well, the stairs will be a challenge though, for sure,” Evan said. “Maybe it’ll be good to have everyone around for a while. And I’m glad I’m home from school for now. Football practice isn’t starting up for another few months either, so I can help maybe get things brought downstairs for you – and then back up before I go back to school. The casts will come off in a month or two, right?”
Adam nodded, ignoring Eva’s flustered laugh. “I think it’s a good idea,” he said gently. “And we can do the engagement party at the house; Harmony had mentioned possibly doing it there anyway. Should we plan the rehearsal dinner there, too?”
Eva rolled her eyes and took a breath, preparing to protest further, but Michael met her gaze and said, “Come on, Mom. Let us do this for you. There’s no need to go home and struggle with things unnecessarily if we can all get together to make this a little easier on you.”
“And it’s only fair,” Cameron added. “After all you’ve done for all of us over the years.” She waited for the Kingsley matriarch to nod reluctant approval before she stepped away from the side of the bed. “Alright. Well, if that’s settled, I’m off to get home. Evan, do you want a ride back to the house? Or you could just crash at my place if you’d rather. Didn’t you come with Drew this morning?”
“No, I rode in with Dad,” Evan sighed. “I just went with Drew to hunt down Michael. But no, my car’s at the house.” He waited a moment, his eyes on his hands, fidgeting in his lap as he thought. Cameron waited patiently, gathering her hair into a loose braid. Finally, Evan glanced over at Adam. “You guys are alright here?” he asked.
Adam smiled. “Of course. It’s a hospital, Ev. What could happen?”
Now decided, Evan stood, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his jeans. He turned to Cameron and nodded. “Well, I guess you and I are off, then. But I’ll just stay at your house, if you’re sure it’s okay. Then you don’t have anywhere extra to stop.”
“Of course it’s okay,” Cameron laughed. Tossing the end of her braid over her shoulders, she tucked her cell phone into her pocket and grabbed her keys from the table at Eva’s bedside.
“You two heading out, too?” Adam asked, meeting Michael’s eyes as Cameron and Evan left the room.
Michael stiffened, looking at his mother. She had been her usual self throughout the evening, but he could see the lines of exhaustion around her eyes, could see the tension in her mouth that told him she was in pain. She nodded to him, smiling softly, giving her silent permission for him to go home – absolving him of the guilt she knew he would feel if he left. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “I think I’ll hang out here tonight. There’s a foldout chair in the lounge that has my name on it.” He watched his father open his mouth to protest, but he plunged ahead. “I’m off tomorrow anyway; I called the shop manager on the way here and told him to cancel appointments and close things down today and tomorrow.”
Renee jerked, looking up at him in surprise. So did Eva, her eyebrows drawn together. “Now Michael,” she started, but Michael held his hands up to quiet her.
“It’s already been done,” he said. “Family emergency. I’m staying.”
“But your customers?”
Michael shrugged. “They’ll be alright – regulars have got fifty percent discounts for their trouble. And the corporates won’t care about one day difference – or even two. And before you two start worrying, don’t. I’ll be alright, too. Look, let me be here, okay?” He shrugged again, stuffing his hands into his pockets as he leaned back against the wall. “It’s what I can offer.”
"Michael.” Eva tipped her head, a warning in her voice.
But Michael was not to be swayed. “I’m staying.”
“You’ll take Renee home though,” Adam argued. "She's been here all day – she’ll want her rest.”
"Actually," Renee said quietly, "I was thinking I'd stay, too. You know, to keep Michael company.'' Glancing over at Michael, she offered a smile and a shrug.
“You don’t need to stay … “ Michael started, his voice trailing away as he turned to Renee. He pulled his keys from his pocket and jingled them softly. “I don’t mind to take you home,” he said quietly. “Mom and Dad will be alright here for a few minutes.” But she shook her head, her eyes soft as she watched him, and his heart jerked in his chest.
Holding her cell phone up, she waggled it at him, her slight smile growing slowly wider. “I can’t go home, anyway,” she said, shrugging. “If I’m not here, who will Chelsea deliver our milkshakes to? I already texted her to ask.”