He surprises me by crawling into the bed, the narrow width barely accommodating us both. He moves cords and lines with heartbreaking tenderness, turning me on my side and wrapping his arm around me. I relax, my lids heavy. At this moment in time, there is not a more perfect place I could imagine. Not another man on Earth who I want holding me.
“Forever and always.” Paul whispers.
And, in that brief moment, I feel guilt over Stewart and my heart’s abandonment of him. Then, pure happiness washes over me and Stewart is forgotten.
I wake two hours early, rolling out of bed with a purpose. It is the first day in almost a decade that I have my boys back. Thanks, in no small part, to Madison. The same Madison who I, in a brief moment of creativity, dart-boarded last week after too many margaritas. But that was before. Before she almost died, and Stewart called me, and I got to hug Paul and look into both of their eyes. Before I found out that she wasn’t ruining their hearts through a shredder for her personal enjoyment. I almost, just a teeny bit, feel some affection for the woman.
I dress for work, pulling on a Jones New York suit and sling-backs, pull my hair into a low bun and leave my contacts in their case, sticking with glasses and minimal makeup, and jog out the door at 5:45 AM, two bananas and an apple in my purse, a giant mug of coffee in my hand.
Sixteen minutes later, I step through the hospital doors, and smile brightly at the receptionist. Three minutes later, I am escorted to her room.
“She will still be asleep,” the silver-haired woman explained in a hushed voice that was practically screaming. “But you can sit in there until she wakes up. Her notes say she was coherent and speaking late last night.”
Late last night. After Stewart left, his phone already to his ear. She must have woken after I left at nine. Hopefully Paul was here. By the look on his face, he had had no intentions of going anywhere. I gently press on the door and tiptoe inside.
My heart physically swoons when I see them. A tall frame hugging her small body, crammed in a narrow space that should be uncomfortable but looks perfect. His head nestled in her hair, his arm across her body. Her eyes closed, a small smile on her face, her feet tucked back between his legs. I hesitate in the doorway, then step backward, pulling the door gently closed.
I make my way back to the receptionist area and veer right, following the path to the cafeteria, pulling my cell from my pocket as I walk. I dial Stewart’s cell.
“Hey. I’m at the hospital. Just wanted to check and see if you were coming by.”
He sighs, heavy into the phone. “I can’t now. I have...” there is the rustle of papers and I hear him speaking to someone else. Then he is back. “Is she stable?”
“Yes.” I can’t stop the smile from entering my voice. “She was speaking last night. Coherent. They haven’t woken her yet this morning.”
He exhales loudly and all background noise stops for a moment. “That is so great, Dana. That... God, I can’t describe how that makes me feel. Have you told Paul?”
“He stayed the night.” I wait to see his reaction before I say anything more, the silence long before he finally speaks.
“That’s good. I’m glad someone was there when she woke up. Do you know... if she asked for me?”
“I don’t know. But today... she needs to know the connection between you two. She won’t understand otherwise.”
His voice is suddenly abrupt. “I know. Just... handle it. However you think best. Let her know... if she asks... that I love her.”
“You love her.” I wait a moment. “That’s it?”
“That’s all I can do.” He says quietly. “She’ll understand. It’s one of the things I love about her.”
He hangs up the phone, his voice echoing in my head. I love her. One of the things I love about her. The silly grin, one I’d been wearing since I walked in and saw Paul cuddling with her, drops.
I sit in an uneven chair and eat rubbery eggs, staring at today’s paper and trying to think. I woke up delusional, thinking that this would all turn out easy. I had thought, after talking to Stewart yesterday, that he understood. That he would walk away without looking back. Leave Paul to his happiness. Move on. I didn’t factor in the fact that he still loves her. That love doesn’t have an off switch. God, I knew that better than anyone. I still pine for my ex-husband, who happily lives his new life with his new wife. I go to bed each night wanting that impossibility. Who was I to think that he could, with one simple decision, step away and wash his hands of any emotion?
I take a sip of coffee and watch the clock tick, dreading the morning and all that it brings. I need to get to work. It is tax time, a deadline approaching that cannot be missed. But I don’t know my younger brother well enough to trust that he will handle this correctly. Hell, I don’t even know how to handle it correctly.
It is one, giant ball of screwed up. Paul is ecstatic at the fact that she’s alive. At the fact that he might have her all to himself. Stewart is brooding, back in his office of solitude, still tossing out emotions like shedding skin, the fresh new skin just as love-affected as what is falling off. I am being greedy, like an underfed vulture, swooping down, excited about the carnage and what it could mean for me. My two boys. Back in my life. Egos pushed aside in a time of need. And the woman who it all centers around—she is the biggest unknown. How she feels. Who she wants. Stewart has stepped away... but what if she chases him? What is she chooses him? Paul... I can’t imagine what that would do to him.
I push back from the table and carry my tray to the trash, accidently dumping my fork in, watching as it slides down into a mountain of yuck. I debate reaching for it, then glance around casually. No one is looking. I stack the tray on top and heft my purse over my shoulder, heading back to her room.
I turn a corner and run into Paul, his hair messy, a white v-neck pulled sloppily over board shorts. His hands coming out, an apology tumbling from his mouth, and then a smile breaks over his face when he sees it’s me. God, I’ve missed his smile. I’ve missed that dimple in his cheek, his carefree eyes, the sparkle in them when he is happy.
“Hey sis.” He wraps his arms around me, squashing my purse to my chest in one tight embrace. “Did you hear? She’s awake.” He releases me, stepping back. “She’s back—just like before. No damage.”
I smile at him. “I heard. The nurse told me. I was just coming to you now.”