He moved past her and opened the door to Autumn’s room, stepping inside and pulling it shut behind him.
She wasn’t the first woman who had been friendly. The hospital staff had taken him under their wing, some in a more predatory fashion than others. He seemed to be a combination of sympathy case and prized acquisition, the dynamic unsettling. But not in her room. In her room, everyone seemed to leave him alone. In here, it was just the two of them.
“Hey, baby.” He sat by her bed and lifted her hand, bringing it up to his mouth and kissing the inside of it. “I heard the craziest thing today. Back in 1998, a sixteen-year-old died from a heart attack brought on by a buildup of butane and propane in his bloodstream. Want to guess how that happened?”
He gave her a moment to think, studying the quiet lay of her features. “Excessive use of deodorant sprays. He had an apparent obsession with personal hygiene.” That would have been a good story for her list of most embarrassing deaths.
Reaching over, he turned off the baby monitor, silencing the sounds of Mr. Oinks soft snores. Leaning forward, he rested his head on her stomach and closed his eyes, inhaling deeply and trying to find her scent. It was there, hidden behind all of the hypoallergenic soap and medicinal scents. It was there, but faint. He fought to remember her laugh. He hadn’t really ever made her laugh. There had been chuckles. Some giggles. But a hard belly laugh was definitely in order, once she was up and about.
He tightened his grip on her slack hand and listened to the machine’s comforting sounds. The steady beep of her heart. The whoosh of her ventilator. The hum of her circulation compresses.
“I love you,” he whispered.
But, like always, she stayed silent.
Declan & Autumn’s list of to-dos
Uncontrollable, cramp-your-cheeks laughter
A Pictionary battle
Cooking dinner together
Making love in the morning
A dance by a campfire
A confession of all of our secrets
An early morning run walk
Giving Mr. Oinks a bath
Building window boxes for more flowers
Saturday morning laziness
A candlelit dinner
Cuddling in a hammock
Kissing away tears
Swimming in the ocean
Smores at midnight
A kiss at Niagara Falls
They ran, side by side, his stride easier than hers. When they made it to the top of the hill, Ansley pulled at his arm, shaking her head. “I need a break.”
He slowed to a stop and stopped the timer on his watch. “You’re getting faster. Down a minute on your mile compared to last month.”
“Really?” she wheezed. “I feel slow as ever.”
He watched as she leaned forward, her hands on her knees. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” Ansley grimaced and straightened, twisting to the left, then the right. “Just getting old.” She nodded down the hill. “Mind walking for a bit?”
Out of reflex, he glanced down the first cross street, the damage from the plane still visible. The damaged home had been scraped, and a new frame was already in place.
Ansley stayed quiet, looking down at the road. He reached back, stretching his pec, enjoying the warmth of the sun on his face. It’d been a cold winter, unseasonable for Tallahassee. He’d had to cover all of Autumn’s plants and bring in all the pots. He’d even gotten a sweater for Mr. Oinks, much to Ansley’s disgust.
He smiled at the memory, the sweater now in a landfill, Mr. Oinks enthusiasm for the piece rivaling Ansley’s. Apparently pigs don’t like to wear things. And, as Ansley so irritably pointed out, he had a lot of fat to keep him warm.
“I’m pregnant.” Ansley stopped short and turned to him, shielding her face from the sun with her hand. “I haven’t… I haven’t told anyone yet, other than Roger.”
He struggled to process the feelings that came, his surprise and elation for her mixed with a wave of sadness. Over the last eight months, they had grown close—bonding over Autumn, united in their fierce protectiveness of her fight—and she felt like a sister to him, one he felt honor-bound to.
“So, you haven’t told her yet?” He watched Ansley’s face as it crumpled, her shoulders rounding in and he reached out, pulling her into his chest in a hug.
“I can’t. I tried. Three times I’ve tried. But I need her to know. To understand. Not to just lie there.” She choked out the words and looked up into his face, her eyes red and filled with tears. “I just…”
“I know,” he said gruffly. “She’ll be so happy.” He held her against his chest, feeling her shake with quiet sobs, and wished he could take away that pain. She should be happy. They should be celebrating. He squeezed her tighter and tried to find the right thing to say.
Autumn would know. Autumn would have a joke, and dance around, and spout off morbid statistics in the most adorable fashion possible. She would christen this baby as hers, and whisper against Ansley’s stomach, and meet Declan’s eyes with a playful and happy smirk.