As I entered Jax's room, I found him propped up on some pillows, staring at the wall with a sullen expression and a couple days of stubble on his cheeks. He had already gotten a little color back, but he still didn't really look like himself, lying there with an IV in his arm and wearing a hospital gown.
Still, he was alive, and the smile he flashed when he turned his gaze to me warmed me up.
"Hi Pepper," he said weakly, adjusting himself so he sat up a little straighter.
"I came back for you!" I chirped, trying to be as cheerful as possible.
He nodded and gave me a small smile. "I see that. Thanks."
A silence hung in the air for several seconds as I studied his face. He seemed to be staring off, trying to keep his eyes on me but unable to do so for any length of time. Something was weird about him.
I pulled his gift out from behind my back, hoping it would cheer him up. "I got you something," I said, keeping my voice bright.
His brown eyes opened wide and he took the gift from my hands. "What is it?"
I was happy to hear a little life in his voice. "Open it!"
Tearing open the paper, he revealed the iPad I had bought for him and turned it around in his hands. I had even managed to find some Hitchcocks stickers for the back to make it more personalized, and when he inspected them on the back he smiled.
"Thank you," he said quietly, turning so his gaze met mine. Even though his voice had livened up a bit, his eyes still seemed distant, like he was swimming to the surface just to talk to me. "This is perfect."
I nodded, even though his expression worried me. "You're welcome," I said, trying to keep things upbeat. "Turn it on! I loaded it up with a few surprises."
He obeyed as I leaned around to look over his shoulder. "See? I loaded it up with every Hitchcock movie I could find. So now you can watch them wherever."
"Wow," he said, looking back up at me, and I caught a glimmer of warmth in the dark depths of his eyes. "You really thought of everything. Thanks."
He arched his neck so that our faces were close and I leaned down to give him a kiss. Our lips locked tenderly, sending a warm feeling down my spine. I wanted desperately to curl up with him in his bed and be close to him. The intimacy of his touch, even if it was just a simple caress, was like nothing I'd felt with anyone before.
His lips lingered on mine before we broke off the kiss. I straightened up and gazed into his eyes, my mind racing with all the things I wanted to say to him. "Jax," I said softly, "I never want to lose you."
His dark brows, including his beautiful eyebrow scar, arched. "Lose me?"
My stomach twisted as the memory of his collapse flashed through my mind. "I know you didn't want to let your fans down, but you nearly died out there!"
"But I didn't," he said, his voice gruff. "And I won't let my fans down. Ever."
I nodded quickly and put my hand on his shoulder to reassure him. "I know, I know. But when I saw you fall over on stage, passed out and pale . . . and then some fans were up on the stage, crowding around and getting all hysterical. I didn't know if you were going to make it. It was scary! Maybe it would help to get some better security at concerts."
"Pepper, let's not talk about this," he said, exasperation heating up his voice. "It was a freak thing."
My throat caught slightly as I felt my emotions rising. His mood had changed so quickly. "But what about if your dad's bike gang tries to hurt you? The Reapers? If they found us, they'd want revenge, right? I don't know, it seems like some extra security can't hurt."
He shook his head. "I don't think the Reapers are coming after us, Riley. And even if they did, extra security at the concert won't help that, but it will make my fans feel less close to the band and that would suck."
I took a deep breath. He had a point about the fans. "Well, can't we figure out something? I almost lost you twice in the last few days, and that really scares me."
His eyes narrowed. "But I'm fine. Doc says my recovery should be no big deal, just a little rest. I'm sorry I scared you, but it's in the past now."
"What about security for the bus? We could talk to Reed and—"
"Pepper," Jax interrupted, his face hard. "This conversation is over."
I studied his face. He seemed so stubborn and moody—not that I could blame him, after what he'd been through. There was no getting through to him at this point. Defeated, I slumped my shoulders and looked around the room. Maybe I could talk to him again some other time about The Reapers. It just seemed like we had to do something.
"How do I get games on this thing?" Jax asked.
He held up his new iPad. "Do you know how to download games?"
I shook my head, stunned by how quickly he had changed topics. "I guess you need to connect to the wifi around here. I don't know what that is."
He blinked and looked down at his device before looking back up at me. The distant look was back on his face. "Whatever. We can figure it out later."
I shrugged. "Okay. How about a movie?"
"One of the movies I put on your iPad."
"Oh," he said, still distant. "Yeah. Let's do that. How about Vertigo?"
"Whatever you want," I answered. At this point I just wanted to keep the peace.
He started the movie up, and after grabbing a chair to sit next to him we watched it until we were interrupted by the other band members returning from lunch. As I watched him interact with the band, I couldn't help but feel a pang of worry. Something was up with him. Maybe it was painkillers, maybe it was what happened at the concert or with his dad, but something was up. And I knew now wasn't the time to push. At that moment, I felt like all I could do was hope he would heal as the days wore on.
ON THE ROAD
Jax was released from the hospital a day later. I had been hoping his mood would improve once he was out—he'd said he hated hospitals—but it didn't. Even when Reed called to tell us he'd booked one more gig, this time at a big outdoor festival, essentially extending the tour by two weeks, Jax seemed irritable and just shrugged.
The rest of the band had been overjoyed, though, and I emailed Palmer, asking him for some vacation time. There was no way I could make myself leave Jax now, not when he seemed to need me the most. But to my surprise, Palmer extended my job with the Hitchcocks, saying that I shouldn't leave until the job was truly finished. That meant I didn't even have to burn any vacation time.