Page 67 of Tripping on a Halo

Four and a half hours had passed since they’d taken her into surgery. It should have been over by now. Ansley had worn out the path to the reception desk, her constant requests for updates yielding no new information. Declan pinched his palms together and, for the hundredth time since loading her into the ambulance, began to pray.

Finally, more than two hours after the surgery was supposed to be over, the door to the ER swung open. The doctor came out, slowly pulling off his gloves. Declan looked into his face and saw all he needed to.

October

ONE MONTH LATER

“Mr. Moss.” The man stood, extending his hand, a leather portfolio pressed tightly to his breast. “I’ve heard so much about you.” He gestured to the empty seat across from his desk. “Please, sit. Unless you’d prefer we move to the couch?”

“No, this is fine.” Declan took one of the high wingback chairs. “Where would Autumn sit?”

The man thought it over. “She liked to wander. Touch things. She moved around a lot. I suspect the majority of her seating decisions were designed to irritate me.” He almost smiled, the edge of his mouth twitching before settling back into place.

“She liked to irritate you?”

He set the portfolio on the desk and opened it to a blank pad of paper. “She didn’t like me very much, I’m afraid.”

His memory was fuzzy, but he believed the term she had used was tool bag, so the shrink’s powers of perception were capable. Declan smiled. “That’s okay. She spent half of our interactions shoving me away from her.”

The man sat down in the heavy leather chair, taking his time to arrange himself into place, one thin knee crossing over the other. Picking up a polished black pen from the desk, he uncapped it and studied him. “I was told by the trust that she is in a coma, is that correct?”

Declan nodded, his throat tightening at the simple four-letter word, one he had never given much thought to before. Now, it was his life. Wake. Shower. Work. Autumn. Coma. Sleep.

“If you’re here to find out things about her, I’m afraid I can’t help you with that.” The man rolled the pen over in his hand. “Whether Ms. Jones is incapacitated or not, she is still considered to be living, and our conversations are protected by confidentiality laws.”

She is still considered to be living. Of course she was. She was less than a mile away. Skin warm. Heart beating. He’d just eaten lunch with her. For this prick to even suggest anything else… he gripped the arm of the chair tightly and forced himself to calm down.

His emotions, during the month since her surgery, had been all over the place. He was wound up, jittery. Prone to anger one moment and anguish the next. Autumn’s entrance and sudden exit from his life had left him with a mountain of feelings that he struggled to process and didn’t know how to handle.

The man’s gaze focused on his tight grip on the chair and he sat back a little in his seat. “Grief is a very powerful emotion, Mr. Moss. There are ways to work through it, if you’d like some help.”

“I’m not grieving,” he said tightly. “I’m fine. She’s fine. I’m here because …” His mind floundered. Why was he here? He had made the appointment without thinking, desperate for contact with anyone and everyone who had known her and chasing… searching for some sign of her life. He’d walked in this office with a glimmer of hope that this man might say something, anything that would help. But maybe he had had the right mindset from the beginning—and kept psychology in the garbage bag of events that weren’t for him.

So far, he’d walked dogs with Mrs. Robchek, then sat down in her floral-covered living room and received in-depth tours of every scrapbook Autumn had ever made her.

He’d driven south and had dinner with Mr. Clevepepper, who had griped about politics, the heat, and the wax jobs of The Villages’ women, all the while saying little about Autumn, other than complimenting her coffee.

He’d taken Mr. Oinks to his vet appointment and met Adam, who had expressed sharp concern for Autumn while giving Declan the exciting news that Mr. Oinks’ reluctant testicle had finally dropped.

He’d eaten a dozen meals with Ansley and Roger, taken Paige and Caleb to the playground, and wandered through Autumn’s empty house like a lost puppy.

He’d run out of places to go, and this session was only five minutes in and the prick was already making everything worse. She is still considered to be living.

“Autumn had a singular focus and that was on you,” the doctor said, peering at him through tortoise-framed glasses. “Don’t consider it a burden of guilt. As I told Autumn in our last session, I believe that watching out for you was helping her recover from the loss of her mother. She was a strong woman, Mr. Moss.”

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