The on-call room is blessedly empty, and I sit on one of the couches to take a moment to try to decompress. I haven’t had a surgery yet, but I’d been called in on a few consults I’m continuing to monitor. A ruptured blood vessel in the brain, which we’re attempting to treat with medication at this point. It might require a ventriculostomy if the swelling doesn’t decrease. The other was a spinal injury from a fall off a ladder, which caused a ruptured disc that’s compressing on the spinal column. Again, treating conservatively for now, but it could turn into a surgery at any time.

No high-pressure situations yet, so that’s why I need to decompress.

That all has to do with Elena because outside the blissful moments where I must concentrate on my patients or their test results, my mind has been occupied with her. I’m incredibly worried about her still. While I know she’s physically fine, I’m more worried about the mental toll she’s suffering. I know what it’s like to confront death. It can fuck with people’s head.

I really should give her a call and check in.

I don’t, though, because I don’t know what to say. Every fiber in my being is still saying I should pull away. Get out while I’m still able to do so with only a slightly broken heart versus a crushed one later down the line. If I’m going to break things off with her, that needs to be done face to face and not over the phone.

And yet, by not calling her or even texting to ask how she’s doing today, I’m sending a clear message she’s not important to me.

Which is about as far from the truth as possible.

She’s too fucking important is the problem, and I should have known this was coming. When I’d broken things off with her before Father’s Day because I’d realized she made me vulnerable, I should have left her far behind and moved on.

I snag my phone out of my lab coat, then check to see if she’s sent any messages.

I’m both relieved and sad there aren’t any, because I wouldn’t have minded her alleviating my worry with a quick update.

Regardless, I do need to check on one thing, so I dial my mother. I roll my eyes at the way she answers. “Hi, Benji. How’s your day going?”

Benji was what she called me when I was little, and that’s never stopped. She doesn’t call me that all the time, but usually when she’s feeling overly affectionate. She’s been saying it a lot lately since we reconnected, and I give it to her. It’s the least I can do after the hurt I’ve caused her the past year.

“Just checking in… making sure everything is good for tomorrow,” I say. She’s flying in for a short visit. I’m really looking forward to it, now more than ever.

“I’m already packed. Assuming nothing happens with a flight delay, I will see you tomorrow morning.”

“Awesome,” I say. “I’ve got the day off, so we’ll go do something fun.”

“Can Elena come?” she asks, because of course I told my mom all about her. Stupid me thought it was an appropriate time to divulge, share something important with my mom so she knows I’m ready for all the ways we used to be close.

“Um… I’m actually not sure that’s going to happen,” I say lamely.

“Why?” she exclaims, sounding incredibly disappointed.

I tell her what happened to Elena yesterday. And then I explain how I feel about it. “It scared the shit out of me, Mom. And it made me think… I’m just not ready for this. Ready to put myself out there like that with someone again. I mean, maybe in the future, but right now… I just don’t think I can handle it.”

She’s silent a moment before finally saying, “You can handle only what you can handle, Benjamin. Either way, I’ve got your back. I’ll pray God gives you the strength to work through it.”

“Really, Mom?” I ask angrily. “You’re going to bring him into it?”

“You may not have a relationship with Him, but I do, so yes… I’ll pray.”

Why the fuck does everyone love this guy so much? “God doesn’t have shit to do with my life.”

“Of course He does,” she replies firmly, not to dismiss my beliefs—or rather the lack thereof—but to solidly remind me that her faith is strong.

“Then why in the hell didn’t he stop April and Cassidy from dying?”

“It’s not His job to prevent bad things, Benjamin,” she says quietly. “But rather to give you the strength to get through it.”

“But he didn’t,” I mutter.

“I believe He did,” she replies gently.

“Elena believes in God,” I say. Why I say that, I don’t know. “She told me yesterday God must have been looking out for her. That it was why she made it out alive. And if that’s the case, then why was he looking out for Elena, but not April and Cassidy?”