Authors: Brandi Kennedy
When he woke up, Michael felt like someone had shoved a hot poker down the column of his spine. His mouth was dry, his jeans had ridden up into a most uncomfortable place, and his right arm had fallen asleep. Groaning slightly against the pain shooting up into his neck, he attempted to roll over and realized he was pinned by his dead right arm. Experimentally, he flexed his hand, testing, and was reassured to feel his fingers moving.
It wasn’t until she moved, her hair still smelling of a warm summer breeze, that his eyes popped open completely. Renee was lying there, propped in the chair next to his, her head resting on his shoulder. Sometime during the night, she had crept beneath his arm, which was dead because it had been draped over her shoulders for, apparently, quite some time. Despite himself, Michael took advantage of the chance to really look at her, to appreciate the inherent beauty that he usually made a point to ignore.
Renee Keaton was a truly beautiful woman, with dark hair the color of lightly creamed coffee, streaked with molten caramel. Her eyes, now closed softly, mascara coated lashes resting against her cheek, would be the most beautiful mix of colors when they opened, bright blue mingling with warm green and a calmer, more soothing grey, sparkling in spite of the darker brown flecks ringing the edges. She was slender but not too thin, narrow shouldered and narrow hipped; she was lithe and strong and graceful.
Harvey was a lucky man. The bastard.
“Stop staring at me like that,” Renee whispered, her eyes still closed. “I can feel it. Did I drool?”
“Yeah,” Michael answered softly, teasing. “It’s kind of gross. Better not let Harvey spend the night – he’ll never ask you for a second date if you do. Probably be too disgusted to even tell you good morning.”
“You think it depends on where I’m drooling?” She popped one eye open, sparkling with amusement. “Will he be
disgusted if it isn’t his shoulder? Or
“Probably less,” Michael answered stiffly, suddenly not at all entertained. “I doubt he’ll care if you’re drooling, if you mean what I think you mean.” He didn’t say the rest of what he was thinking, which was,
“I really hope you don’t mean what I think you mean.”
Where the hell did
His arm tightened slightly, involuntarily hugging her closer; he forced the muscles to loosen and she sat up, rubbing her eyes with the tips of her fingers; she turned to look at him, smiling sleepily. “Well, at least I have you to tell me like it is. Even though you’re a total liar and I was so
drooling. Still like me enough to sit across the breakfast table from me?”
He brought his hand up, flexing it to work the blood back into his fingers, and scratched his chin. Renee narrowed her eyes at him as he pretended to think things over, and he laughed when she reached out to slap his arm. “Alright, I guess I can tolerate your face, if I try hard. I should check on my parents though, first.”
“Well, come on.” She stood up slowly, raising one arm above her head and bending it at the elbow. She slipped her other arm behind her back and locked her hands together, one elbow above her head, the other down behind her back, small breasts jutting forward as she stretched. Michael turned away, clearing his throat as she switched arms, shoving her firmly back into the mental box that was marked, “Friend.” There was no way he was letting her slip into the box that was marked, “Women,” no way he was willing to cross that line and end up losing her.
In Eva’s room, Michael and Renee found his parents still sleeping. Adam had moved his pull-out chair close to the side of Eva’s bed before extending the footrest. They were holding hands as they slept, her arm dangling over the side of her bed, the weight of her cast resting on Adam’s stomach. As they watched, the monitor screens blinked an updated pulse rate; beside the pulse rate was Eva’s last recorded blood pressure, one-twenty over seventy-four. Michael frowned worriedly, trying to remember what a normal reading for blood pressure should be, but Renee elbowed him gently in the ribs to capture his attention. She looked pointedly at the monitor, raised one hand in a “thumbs-up” gesture, and smiled. In response, Michael took her hand and tugged, spinning her silently around to face the hallway; stepping behind her, he dropped both hands onto her shoulders and steered her from the room.
In the hallway, they stopped and stood together, leaning quietly against the wall beside the now-closed bedroom door. “Should we wake them up?” Renee asked. “We could ask if they want us to bring them some breakfast.
Sighing, Michael pulled his cell phone from his pocket. “Give me just a second,” he said, unlocking the screen and opening his contacts list. He shrugged, glancing over at Renee before his attention returned to his phone, and she watched as he scrolled over to the contact group marked, “Family.” He tapped the list, scrolling through to de-select Renee’s name. “I don’t guess you need a text, since you’re here.”
Renee didn’t answer, but he felt her eyes on his face. He felt, too, a flush of heat moving up his neck; it rose all the way to the tips of his ears. Swallowing, he chanced a quick look in her direction, and found her watching him curiously, one eyebrow raised, her lips pursed to hold back a teasing grin. “Mmhmm,” she said. “I guess what we need to get for breakfast depends on who’s going to be here. Good thinking.”
Michael nodded silently, grateful that she had needed no explanation. He couldn’t have told her exactly what had made him add her to his family contact group, or which specific moment had made her transition from just being a pal to being something far more valuable. He didn’t even think of her as family in any true sense of the word – he definitely didn’t see her as one of his siblings! But … she mattered. When he texted or interacted with his family as a whole, it just felt natural to have her name on the list. But to explain that distinction, simply but meaningfully? How could he? There wasn’t a way.
Remembering that Drew would be signing off of another night patrol, and Cass had mentioned having an appointment, Michael deselected their names as well, and typed out a quick text to Cameron, Evan, and Harmony.
“You guys coming up for breakfast, or just planning to meet at the house when Mom leaves the hospital?”
“Well, come on,” Renee said, touching his arm. “We can at least go get some coffee.”
Later that morning, Michael and Renee, Cameron and Logan, Evan and Harmony, and Adam and Eva were just finishing breakfast when a light tap sounded on the door. At Eva’s call, the door opened and the doctor came in, smiling, the crisp clean scent of his cologne mingling with the sterile stench of disinfectant. “Good morning, Mrs. Kingsley,” he said, his voice a little too loud in the sudden quiet.
Affecting not to notice, Eva inclined her chin gracefully, dusting donut sugar from her fingertips. “Good morning. Doctor Marsh, right?” At his answering nod, she went on. “So many doctors here, and a new one with each shift. It’s hard to keep all the right names attached to the right faces.”
“That’s fair enough,” Doctor Marsh laughed. “Lucky for me, I’ve got a built-in cheat sheet.” He held up the tablet he had tucked under his arm, waving it slightly before turning it back in his hands. “See, I get all the names right here, matched to the room number. Easy.”
“I imagine you need the cheat, much more than we do,” Adam said, drawing Doctor Marsh’s attention in his direction. “We have seen four doctors, maybe eight nurses, the girls in the radiation department, a number of members of the hospital’s blood-sucking team …” He let his voice trail away, lifting his coffee to take a sip. “But then,” he said. “You have all of that, plus the patients. And what? A hundred on a floor?”
“Just about that, maybe.” Doctor Marsh kept his eyes on the tablet in his hands, scrolling and tapping as he read through the medical charts stored on the device. “It makes it that much more of a blessing to have good electronics like this, though. Everything syncs up easily, and you can get to anyone’s results at almost any time.”
“If you know how to use all that stuff,” Adam mumbled, scowling.
In the chair beside him, Michael felt Renee’s shoulder move against his as she crossed her legs. Peeking over at her from the corner of his eye, he caught her lowering her face to hide a smile and lowered his own face as well. Across the room, Cameron caught his eye, her own eyes sparkling with humor.
As the moment passed, Doctor Marsh cleared his throat – and with a glance that encompassed the family members filling the room, he gestured toward Eva with the tablet in his hand. “Alright, well. Here’s what we’re looking at this morning, Mrs. Kingsley. At this point, I think we’ve got you hydrated again – but I’m still seeing some other things that haven’t quite straightened out yet. Your potassium is still pretty low, so what I’d like to do is order another supplement for your IV. But because it was so low, I’d also like to keep you one more night, just to be sure that everything works out before I send you home. I do think we can be reasonably sure you’ll be sleeping in your own bed tomorrow night, though.”
Eva sighed. “That’s fine, then,” she answered. Shaking her head slightly, she turned to Harmony. “Is it possible to postpone the cake tasting tomorrow afternoon? I know you could do it yourself, but I did really want to be there with you.”
Harmony smiled. “It’s already done,” she said. There’s a little time before the wedding still, so we’re not in a huge hurry. You know me, I just like to be prepared. We’re scheduled for next week, and the bakery was really cool about it. They even offered to send something to the house as a get-well soon.” She shrugged, her smile growing wider. “So I guess when you get home, we’ll be having cake for lunch.”
“Awesome!!” Logan shouted. Cameron looked at him sternly, shaking her head in amusement as he widened his eyes and pretended to go back to reading the book that had been propped in his lap.
“And you’ll walk into the bakery for your appointment much more sure of your preferences,” Doctor Marsh laughed. “Lucky for you, you’ll be home soon enough. Sounds like it’ll be a fun time.”
“That is, if this little hog leaves any for anyone else,” Cameron muttered, playfully elbowing Logan, who pretended not to notice – except that he couldn’t help making a few quiet snorts behind the pages of his book.
At this, Michael laughed. “I’m beginning to understand why they only let two people in here at a time.”
Doctor Marsh shook his head. “Actually, we’re pretty lax about that in general. It’s a rule, but only so that we can use it to keep things quiet when we need to. You’d really be surprised though, how many of these rooms never see visitors.” He sighed quietly, tucking his tablet back under his arm and glancing up at the clock. “Alright folks, I’m off to finish rounds. Save me a piece of that cake, mister.” Reaching out as he edged through the room to the door, he ruffled Logan’s hair and left.
“I wonder if he’ll be your doctor the whole time you’re in here,” Renee laughed. “He’s fun!”
“I wonder if Mom was serious about me not saving any cake,” Logan grinned, a devilish sparkle in his eyes. “That would mean she let me eat it all.”
“You wish,” Cameron answered.
“Well, if I’m going to keep being stuck here,” Eva muttered, glaring at the IV taped to her arm, “I’m going to be bored. And I know you want a shower, honey.” She shook her head as Adam prepared to protest, holding up a finger to silence him.
Adam took the finger that was pressed to his lips, kissed the tip of it, and settled his wife’s hand in her lap. “I am not leaving you here,” he said.
“Go, I’ll be fine. I’m tired anyway, maybe I’ll take a nap while you’re gone.”
Adam made a face. “Woman,” he said, warningly. “What kind of husband leaves his wife in a hospital?”
“The kind who has a wife who doesn’t need coddling. Go on, all of you. Take showers, have a decent lunch in a bit, take a nap. And when you come back, bring books. It’s boring in here, and I’m sick of staring at that,” Eva grumbled, glaring at the TV.
“I’m not leaving you here alone,” Adam retorted.
“What if I stay?” Renee spoke up from her chair. “I know Harmony’s on the road tomorrow for the show this weekend, and Cameron, you have Logan. And I thought I heard you say Mac was coming home this afternoon?”
"He is," Cameron answered. "I could ask Marie to get him from the airport, though, so Logan and I can be here.”
“Go,” Renee told her. She shrugged. “You’re all tired, and I slept alright last night. The studio is closed today anyway, so I don’t have classes to teach – and you guys are like family to me, so that’s all there is to it,” she said, shrugging again. “I’ll stay.”
“Renee –“ Adam started, but Michael cut him off.
“I’ll stay with her,” he said. “Go home, Dad, and get some rest. We’ll be here.”
“You were here all night, son.”
“So were you,” Michael answered. “I’ll stay, you go home and rest. Take Evan with you, and he can start carrying things downstairs for tomorrow. Then you can come back refreshed, and I’ll go tonight after dinner. I’ll spend the night home, and I can meet you back here in the morning to help with Mom when they send her home. She’s gonna have a hard time getting around with the leg and the wrist both in casts.” He saw Eva’s eyes widen indignantly, but pressed on. “You can’t even do crutches, Mom – you won’t be able to lean on them with your wrist.” Eva rolled her eyes in protest, turning her face away, and Michael turned back to his father. “Go,” he said softly. Meeting Renee’s eyes, he swallowed, unspeakably grateful for her willingness to stay and look after his mother. Moments like these were why she made his “family” list in the first place – why she had come to mean so much to him. Nodding to her, he turned back to his father. “It’s cool, Dad. I’ll be here. Um,