He released his grip, sliding onto his side and trying to push himself up from the floor.
“Here, let me help you,” I asked him.
I halfway expected him to cast out an argument, or maybe even physically push me away. Instead, the weakened billionaire gave a curt nod, and I slipped myself under his arm and slowly guided him up from the floor.
He held onto a nearby end table for support as his leg wobbled.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” I asked cautiously.
Cole threw a dirty, simmering glare my way, but nodded. “Just…help me to the chair…” He pointed vaguely towards the den, descending into a small coughing fit, and I held him upright under his shoulder as he collected himself.
I half-dragged him over to the armchair and guided him down into the comforting stability. Lounging upright, he seemed a little better now, but as he coughed weakly I ran to pour him a glass of water.
“Thank you,” he told me in a raspy voice as I handed him the glass. He drank it all in a single gulp, rubbing his neck with his spare hand after the last swallow.
“Ah, that’s…much better,” he murmured.
“Sound like your throat’s a little raw there,” I observed.
“The coughing,” he answered.
“So, do you want to explain to me why you were crumpled on the floor when I came in, and why you refused to receive any medical attention?”
“This isn’t…how I wanted you to find out,” he sighed weakly. “I came back to tell you everything…but you weren’t here…and I collapsed…in a coughing fit while I was…looking for you…”
Pain flushed through my senses. If I hadn’t stormed off, he wouldn’t have been alone and unconscious.
He saw something in my eyes as he turned to face me. “No, Key…don’t blame yourself. You didn’t know…because I haven’t been truthful yet…but it’s…time.”
“Don’t overexert yourself,” I told him sadly, running my hand along his shoulder and clasping it as strongly as I could. “Just focus on getting better.”
“There is no better,” he bitterly remarked.
“Wait…what do you mean?”
Cole looked into my eyes with the saddest, most desperate look I’ve ever seen a human being give.
I felt everything grow distant as I stared into his eyes, processing what he had just said. Finding him alone and unconscious told me he wasn’t joking – but if I needed any confirmation whatsoever of that, the fear in his eyes supplied it.
“You can’t be dying.”
“Yeah, that’s about what I said too,” Cole smiled, but the smile didn’t match his haggard, weary eyes.
“What…” I swallowed back the lump in my throat, “What do you mean?”
Cole looked like he was barely any condition to speak.
“I don’t think I have the strength for this right now…”
I nodded, stroking the tufts of his brunette hair as I fought back the welling tears. My Cole gave me a weak smile and squeezed my hand. “I’m sorry, Key.”
“Don’t you dare apologize to me, Cole Andrews,” I told him without a trace of anger in my voice. “You just rest, and when you wake up, you tell me everything. You hear me? Everything. From the top.”
“That sounds…good,” he murmured, his eyes slowly closing. “When I…wake up…”
His head slowly slid down, and I caught it, propping it with a pillow. Cole smiled a fatigued acknowledgement, and I poured a fresh glass of water and set it within arm’s reach. I knew I couldn’t leave his side, and cursed myself for our last conversation – how could I have been so childish? So indignant?
It broke my heart, but what I was seeing now was breaking it even harder.
My intention had been to sit in the other chair near him, listening for his every need, but I felt so drained all of a sudden…I can just close my eyes a moment, I thought to myself. I’m right here, Cole…right here beside you…