Page 73 of Tripping on a Halo

I wished I could see what she was pointing at. Was it Mr. Oinks? Was he okay? Was it my monitors?

Hard steps moved out of the room, and Declan didn’t say anything. Did he leave? Mr. Oinks was still happily grunting, and Ansley was saying my name, over and over again, and I couldn’t tell if she was happy or sad. Was this it? Was I dying? I struggled to move, struggled to do anything, but I couldn’t.

More sounds came. A door slammed. Wheels rattled. More people, more voices, more steps. Mr. Oinks squealed, and I heard him hit the floor, his steps moving away as he squawked in protest. Everyone was saying my name—a chorus of voices—and I’d never been so frustrated. I wished someone would shut up with my name and TELL ME WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON.

I fought for movement, strained to open my eyes and then, suddenly, I couldn’t breathe.


She was here. It was only for a moment, but it happened. Ansley saw the tear first, the lone drop of moisture running down her cheek. By the time Declan got the doctors, she had started to breathe on her own. They removed the tube and then put her back under. But she was here. She was coming back.

There were few certainties in life. Declan knew every degree of angle it took to build a house. He knew that the Yankees, no matter what, weren’t ever going to put Chase Stern back in pinstripes. And he knew, had known from the very beginning, that Autumn Jones would wake up. Screw what the doctors had said. Screw every nurse who had gently urged him to “go out and live your life.” He had never stopped believing in her.

And today, finally, it happened.

She was as beautiful as ever, especially now they had removed her mask and tubes. Her hair had grown a lot in the last nine months. And she was thinner. Once she was out of here, they’d need to put some weight back on her bones. Lots of protein-rich meals were in order. Lots of stories to tell, things to catch up on, backrubs to give, feelings to share. And kisses. Lots of kisses.

If he’d ever wondered about his feelings for her, about whether it was purely lust or a fleeting attraction, his resolve had been strengthened during the nine months of her coma. Every day had been a prayer. A plea. He’d fallen for Autumn Jones on a downtown street, over a deli sandwich, and in the woods. But he’d given her his heart during those nine months, and he would have sat by her bed for another nine years.

Now, watching her through the glass, Ansley’s hand gripping hers, the two sisters talking, he was filled with the panic that he might lose her again, in a different way this time. Rejection. Ansley leaned over, hugging Autumn, and then glanced at him, smiling. She moved out to the hall and held open the door for him. “She’s all yours.”

If only she was. He stepped in and quietly closed the door behind him. She watched as he approached, her gaze holding his, and he couldn’t hold back his smile as he got closer. She was alive. In the light of that fact, it didn’t matter if she ever grew to love him.

“Hey.” Her voice was raspy, and he was reminded that they weren’t supposed to tax her. The doc had given strict orders to keep conversations to a minimum and to give her time to rest.

He sat beside her bed and fought the urge to pick up her hand. He had to remind himself that, though he had spent nine months falling in love with her, she was still stuck, one week into their relationship. Back then, she’d fought tooth and nail over anything other than a platonic relationship. Although… his mouth tugged into a grin… that hadn’t exactly been their MO. He schooled his thoughts away from the memories and back to the present. “Did the doctor tell you about your brain?”

She nodded. That morning, they had performed an MRI and discovered that her brain had healed, fresh tissue filling the divot left by the cyst removal. It was a miracle, one assisted by her unlimited funds and world-class care. He had tortured himself endlessly over his selfish frustration at her inheritance and his insecurities around it. That inheritance had saved her life, and he was eternally grateful for its existence.

“Don’t cry.” She reached out for his face and he leaned into her, her touch soft as she brushed away his tears. He swallowed at the gentle contact, and struggled with his emotions, the urge to kiss her, to squeeze her, to tell her all of his feelings … it took every ounce of his resolve to stay in place, and he let out a shudder of breath, his hand tightening on her bed’s rail.