“Jesus fuck,” I mutter.

“I wasn’t going out without a fight. I refused, and that’s when he hit me.”

“Christ, Elena… I’m so sorry. You did the right thing.”

Blinking back more tears, she nods. “Thank God someone walked in and spooked him. He just ran. God was looking out for me.”

Those words don’t sit well because I don’t believe them. God doesn’t do that. He doesn’t save the innocent, at least not in my experience.

“Can you do me a favor?” Elena asks.

“Of course,” I reply automatically, just as long as it’s not to explain the myriad of fucked-up feelings I’ve got going on right now.

“Can you call my mom?” she asks, then nods over to her purse. “You’ll have to grab my phone. I’m ashamed to say I don’t even have her phone number memorized, and they don’t have a landline anymore. I didn’t want to worry her until I knew everything was going to be okay.”

“Sure,” I say as I stand from the chair. “But is she able to drive with her knee?”

“She’ll get one of my brothers to bring her,” she replies.

I get her phone, have Elena unlock it, and then pull up her mom’s contact. Just as I’m about to dial, the plastic surgeon comes in. I step just outside the curtain while he examines Elena’s laceration, keeping one eye on her as I call her mother.

It’s not a pleasant conversation. Mrs. Costieri is hysterical at first, but I’ve dealt with many a patient’s over-emotional family before. I’m able to talk her down quickly by assuring her that Elena is medically sound. We cut the call short so she can work on getting a ride to the hospital.

Back in the room, I introduce myself to the surgeon. She explains how she’s going to stitch the laceration. It’s in the delicate skin of her temple, running just to the front of her hairline. It’s going to leave a visible scar, but hopefully one that’s hard to see after she’s done with it.

A nurse comes in with a tray, and I move to the other side of the bed while they work on Elena. She holds onto my hand tightly, particularly as they irrigate the wound. Once they apply the anesthetic, she relaxes, and I watch with a critical eye as the surgeon works to close the cut. Every delicate stitch she lays, I feel more despondent inside that this happened to the woman I’ve grown to care about so much.

It doesn’t take long. Once we’re alone again, I move the chair by her bed. I keep hold of her hand, sitting in silence with her. I don’t even know what to say.

“Are you okay?” Elena asks.

I try to look confident when I meet her eyes, not guilty for having such confounding thoughts. “Of course. Why?”

“I don’t know,” she replies hesitantly. “You just look… like you’d rather be anywhere other than here. And that’s okay if you need to go. I never expected you to leave work to come in the first place.”

There it is.

My out.

And she handed it to me on a silver platter.

I don’t even hesitate in fudging on the truth a bit. “I left in the middle of patient rounds. Brandon’s covering, but—”

“Go,” she says boldly, then pulls her hand from mine. “You shouldn’t have done that. If you had called me, I could have assured you I was fine.”

To my credit, I don’t bound out of the chair. I sit there, unsure.

“Go take care of your patients,” she says again, pointing toward the door. “My mom will be here soon, and I’ll text you once I’m settled in at home later.”

“Are you sure?” I ask, although I know she is. Elena doesn’t offer things she doesn’t mean.

“I’ll be fine,” she assures with a smile.

I push up from the chair, bend, and put my mouth against hers for a soft kiss. Closing my eyes, I memorialize the feel of her lips against mine, wondering if I’ll ever feel this again.

CHAPTER 28

Elena

“Want anything else?” my mom asks as she pops her head into the living room. I’m lying on her couch, flipping channels.

“I’m good, Mamá,” I say without looking her way.

“Tea? Juice?”

I give her my attention and a reassuring smile. “I’m good. I promise.”

Her return look is as worried as it was when she walked into the emergency room yesterday after Benjamin called her. But she’s a mom. She’ll never be reassured.

My mom insisted I come home with her rather than back to my house. Truth be told, I was really shaken up by the whole ordeal, so it didn’t take much convincing. She kicked my youngest brother Luis out of his room so I could sleep there last night, and he took the couch. After all of us kids moved out, our parents downsized into a small three-bedroom ranch house. The master is for our parents, Luis was currently occupying the guest room, and the third is Dad’s home office.

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