“Shhh, it’s okay. You’re killing me, Lee, please don’t cry. I’m okay. I’m right here and I’m okay,” he reassures me, wiping away each tear that falls with his thumbs.
I try to calm down and slow my breathing as I run my hands over every inch of him that I can reach, making sure that he’s real and safe and alive. I slide my hands up his arms, over his shoulders, run them across his face and then back down his arms again, feeling the warm, hard muscles and sighing in relief.
“I love you. I love you so much,” I tell him, bringing my hands up to rest over top of his on my face. I don’t care if it’s too much too soon. I don’t care about anything but not wasting another minute of our time together. I almost lost Collin without him ever knowing how I feel and I’m not going to make that same mistake twice.
“Oh, baby,” he whispers. “I thought I was too late. When I saw you lying there in that bedroom and you weren’t breathing, I wanted to die. You are everything to me, Finnley, everything. I have loved you since I was fifteen years old and I’m never going to stop.”
The tears start all over again with his words and he quickly leans forward and presses his lips to mine. I never thought I’d see him again. I never thought I’d hear his voice or feel his lips against mine and it’s almost too much to take. I’m overwhelmed with emotion and relief that he’s okay. He’s here and he’s alive and I can kiss and touch him whenever I want.
He moves back and that’s when I finally look down and see that he’s in a wheelchair.
“Oh, my God. What happened?” I ask in horror as I see a hard plaster cast that goes from the tip of his left foot all the way up to his knee as well as a few bandages here and there on both of his arms that I didn’t even notice when I was running my hands over them.
“It’s just a broken leg and a few minor burns. I’ll be out of commission for a little bit but it’s fine,” he explains. “After I got you out of the house and D.J. took you down the ladder so he could start working on you, I tried to get Jordan out of the house. He fought me and refused to leave. When he told me he’d killed you, I stopped giving a shit if he lived or died and I was halfway out the window when the house started to collapse. Thank God D.J. never listens to a damn word I say. He passed you off to another paramedic and raced back up the ladder, grabbed onto my shirt and yanked me out of the window. He lost his hold on me when the ladder started falling with the house and I dropped two stories and landed on my leg.”
My eyes widen in horror as he explains what he went through, but he refuses to let me feel even a moment of guilt.
“Wipe that look off your face right now. It’s not your fault and I’m going to be just fine. I’m more concerned with you. How do you feel? Are you in any pain right now?”
The adrenaline that shot through my veins with the news of Collin’s survival quickly fades, replaced by throbbing pain in my legs and hips where I sustained the worst burns. Collin winces when he sees the look of discomfort on my face and quickly presses the button on the side of my bed to call the nurse.
She races into the room and immediately fills my I.V. with another shot of morphine, making me lie back down in bed and strapping the oxygen mask back on my face.
Before she leaves, she narrows her eyes at Collin. “You should be in bed yourself, breathing in some of the same nice, clean oxygen Mr. McDaniels.”
He gives her a heart-stopping grin as he grabs my hand and brings it up to his mouth, placing a kiss on my palm. “You’re going to have to bring in another tank then, Stephanie, because I’m not leaving my girl’s side ever again.”
She tsks him but can’t hide the smile on her face as she leaves the room.
I can feel the medicine begin to work its magic, the numbness inching it’s way up my legs and hips until there’s nothing but blessed relief and my eyes grow heavy with sleep.
“Close your eyes, baby. I’m not going anywhere, even if Nurse Ratched tries to drag me out of here,” Collin whispers with a laugh close to my ear as my eyelids flutter closed.
I let sleep consume me as I feel Collin’s hand smooth across my forehead and down the side of my face. Everything will be okay. I know that Collin hasn’t told me everything. Based on the way he quickly glossed over the fact that Jordan refused to leave the burning house, I have to assume he probably didn’t make it out alive. I know now that when I asked the nurse earlier if Collin made it out of the house, she naturally assumed I was referring to Jordan. My medical records would still list him as my husband and I’m sure that’s who she thought I was so upset about.
I wonder if it’s wrong that I don’t feel even an inkling of sadness that he’s gone? I built a life with that man. He picked up the pieces of my broken heart after Collin left and he was my whole world for over half of my life.
Seventeen years together.
Seventeen thousand problems.
Seventeen days with a man from my past who is now my future.
Seventeen minutes in hell as the house Jordan and I built together burned down around us.
Seventeen breaths until I took what I thought would be my last.
It turns out, this story does have a happy ending. It wasn’t too late. We still have plenty of time to build a new future.
“I love you, I love you, I love you,” Collin repeats softly in my ear as I drift off to sleep, dreaming about the future that stretches far and wide in front of us.