She felt…foggy. The days had blended together until she didn’t know up from down and day from night. The misty grey had been soft and soothing, like water and a warm blanket at the same time. Too soothing. Too easy.
Tessa slid her fingers into his hair. He’d refused to leave. Even though she could see the exhaustion etched into every line of his face. He looked older. She’d done that to him. The worry for her and the—
She swallowed. His hair feathered around her fingers, soft as a child’s hair. Would their child have had his—
She glanced away from Jon, shutting that thought down as a nurse bustled in. The tuneless tune was as familiar as her cell phone ring. “Hello, Janet.”
She clucked her tongue. “Miss Tessa, you should be sleeping.”
Tessa felt her lips twist into a smile. “Don’t you think I did enough of that?”
“Ah, baby girl, your body needed to heal so it did what it does best. Shut down and force you to do the mending.” She checked the chart at the end of her bed and hung a new IV bag. “You seem like you don’t sit down much.”
The smile was less forced now. “You’re very intuitive.”
Janet nodded to Jon’s crooked lean on the bed, his head pillowed in his arms cradled around her hand. “He’s gonna be a hurtin’ boy in the morning.”
“I couldn’t get him to leave.” Tessa gently raked her fingers through his hair as she knew he liked. “He’s so worried about me.”
“He’s a good man. He’s been here the entire time.”
“I know,” she said softly, letting her head fall back on the uncomfortable pillow and stiff bed. He was a good man. He deserved a woman that was whole.
“Get some rest,” Janet said softly. “Don’t make me put something in that IV drip.”
Tessa smiled. “I will. I’m just going to think for awhile.”
“Turn off your brain. Us women think too much anyway.”
Tessa laughed. “True that.”
She turned to watch the dark window, closing her eyes when the nurse came back a few hours later. When the light of day crept in, she finally slept.
Jon woke with a start. Had the night before been a dream? He looked at her in the sterile bed, just like she’d been for so many days now. Had he just wanted her to be awake so very badly that he’d made it up?
He stood up, his body protesting at the thought of it let alone the actual action. “Fuck.”
“You have to sleep in your own bed, man.”
He turned around, Richie’s barrel chest filling the doorway. “Hey, Richie.” His best friend held out a large cup with the blessed green logo. “You’re a God among men.”
Richie smirked. “Don’t you forget it.” He nodded to the bed. “How’s she doing? Any change?”
“She woke up, she’s even walking around as of last night. At least I hope she is.” Jon tucked a lock of her hair around her ear.
“What do you mean you hope she is?”
Jon put down the cup and scraped his palm against his beard before picking it up again. “Let’s go outside, I need a smoke.”
They headed for the elevator as Jon sucked down half the coffee, hoping to God it would push aside some of the muzzy feeling. “I hope I wasn’t hallucinating last night.”
“Well that depends, was she dancing a jig?”
He snorted out a laugh. “No.”
“Was she in a cheerleader uniform?”
“That’s your fantasy, you sick fuck.”
Richie put a hand to his chest. “I think I’m offended.”
“I don’t think anything’s offended you since ’86,” Jon said and punched the down button for the elevator.
He waggled his eyebrows. “You’re probably right about that.”
Jon rolled his eyes and stepped in the car, thankful that it was empty. He leaned against the rail along the back, resting his cast along his waist. Every part of him throbbed, from neck to toes with the worst offender sitting behind his eyeballs. He tugged his shades out of his pocket and stuffed them on his face. “I talked to her last night. I’m pretty sure I did anyway. The days and nights are blending together.”
“Jonny, why don’t you let me sit with her tonight? You’re going to fall on your face and then you won’t be good to anybody.”
He tucked his cup into the crook of his arm and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’ll get some—“
“At least have the sense not to lie to me, bro.” Richie cut in. His voice held a rare edge of anger to it.
Fury flared hot and thick in his belly. “If I take my eyes off of her she’ll be gone!”
Richie slammed the stop button on the elevator and turned to him. “You can’t control everything!” His voice resonated through the car. “She’s going to come out of this, but you’d best be ready for some changes, man. She’s not going to be the same woman you knew ten days ago. This woman is going to be different from the soul on out.”
“Shut up, Jonny. You can’t force this one to into a schedule, no matter how many sleepless nights you have. This is going to be a clusterfuck of emotional baggage for both you and her.” He clamped his hand down on his shoulder. “Go home and get some rest today.” Richie held his hand up when he opened his mouth to argue. “Wait until Nic relieves you if it makes you feel better, but go home and take a fucking pill.” Richie jammed his finger into his chest. “Literally. Take one of those sleeping pills you keep a script for and never use. Sleep or you’re going to do something stupid or even worse…get sick and then you won’t be able to see her at all.”
Jon hung his head, anger sliding out of him as if it was the only thing keeping him upright. “You’re right. I know you’re right.”
Richie folded his arms over his chest. “Goddamn right, I am.”
He wiped his hand down his jeans. “Get this fucking thing moving before I freak out, man. You know I hate elevators.”
Richie just laughed and yanked on the stopper. “Sissy.”
“Fuck you.” But there wasn’t any heat in his words. Richie’d dragged him off the ledge…again. He stopped, one step beyond the doors. “Thanks, man.”
They returned to the room to find Tessa propped up on some pillows, even her IV bag was gone. Jon’s heart stopped. He’d been so afraid the night before had been a dream. He dropped his cup in the trash and rushed to her side. “Hey,” he said softly.
Her eyes were wary, but they were the same clear spring green he remembered. The pinch of pain had eased from her face leaving a fragility he’d never associated with Tessa. Her lithe form was now just a touch too skinny. Instead of bowing to the loss as she’d done the night before, her head was held high…her chin lifted. He could see the resolve glittering there as she faced him.
“I was afraid I’d imagined last night.”
She pressed her lips together, looking away from him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to fall apart like that last night.”
He frowned. “That’s what I’m here for, Tessa.” He wanted her to know she could lean on him. He needed her to lean on him.
She smiled over his shoulder at Richie. “Hey there big guy.”
“Hey, darlin’.” Richie leaned down and kissed her forehead, curling around her in a gentle hug. “You gave us all a scare.”
“Believe me, I didn’t mean to.” She held her hand out to Jon. “Thank God he found me,” her hand was cool to the touch, “or my storefront would be on the market by now.”
His eyes widened. “Tessa—“
“Oh c’mon now Jon, if I can’t joke about it then I’m obviously not living. We just need to put it behind us.” She patted his hand and slipped away from his touch. “I’ve been bugging them to get out of here, but they want to run a few more tests. I should be able to go home tomorrow if all goes well.”
He curled his fingers into his palm. “Are you sure you should be rushing to get out of here you were just…” he trailed off. She’d almost been dead a little over a week ago for God’s sake.
She smiled, bright and almost manic. “You know what they say about the human body, it heals fast. Not to mention all that great sleep I got.”
Jon frowned up at Richie, who’s only response was a raised brow. “Honey, we’ve got plenty of time—“
“No, there’s no time. I have so much to do and to get ready for.” Her voice was steady, holding the steely tone she used for the Christmas season. “This is the slowest time of the year for the store, so I need to be there to gear up for the summer reading program. The new floor plans need to be set up and—“
Confusion rolled through him. She wanted to go back to work? “I’m sure Nichole’s been taking care of all of that, Tessa. You just need to worry about getting better.”
“I need work, Jon.” She finally looked at him, the resolve in her eyes was unmistakable. “Work is all I have.”
He shook his head. No, she had him. He pulled a chair over to her side. “I think we just need to take this day to day.”
“I have a business to run and people who depend on me. I’ve let them down long enough.”
Let them down? Jon snagged her hand. “Baby, you didn’t let anyone down. What happened was—“
“Unfortunate, but it’s not like I can do anything about that. The best medicine is to get back to work where I can be do the most good. Sitting around here isn’t helping anyone, least of all me. Not to mention I’m holding up a bed for someone who really needs it.” She patted his hand again and tucked her hand under the blanket. “Now, you and Richie need to go.”
“But you just woke up. I want to spend some time with you.” She was shoving him out the door?
“Yes, I’m awake. So you don’t have to worry about me anymore. I’m sure you put a great spin on this for the newspapers and you talked to the kids, right?” She smiled brightly. “Just make sure you get some rest. You can come and pick me up tomorrow.”
“I’ll come back tonight—“
“No, you get some rest tonight. That’s an order.” She shifted on the bed, wincing a little. “You need to sleep in your own bed tonight. I was reading the newspaper; I didn’t even realize the date. You have a home game coming up this weekend don’t you? I’m sure you want to go see Coach and catch up since I’ve kept you—“
“Tessa!” he said in a near shout.
She smoothed out the blanket over her thighs. “What?”
“Just stop it. I don’t fucking care about the game. All I care about is you.”
“Well of course you do,” she smiled at him as if she was talking to him over breakfast and not a hospital bed where she’d been fighting for her life just days before. “But it’s time to get back to our schedules. You’re a busy man and I’ve completely turned your life upside down for almost two weeks. I know you have things you need to take care of. I’m simply telling you to go ahead and take care of it.”
Take care of it? Just like that? Just go…go to the game? He stared up at Richie, then back down at her, shock paralyzing him. “Tessa, I want to be here for you. I want to stay with you tonight. We should talk.”
Her voice was completely reasonable, even though the things she was spewing out were so insane he couldn’t even begin to assimilate them. She tugged the rolling cart in front of her where a notebook lay. Crossing her ankles under the blanket, she linked her fingers on the make-shift desk. “We have tons of time to talk. Now go on. I can’t wait to get out of here tomorrow.” She looked down at the notebook and flipped the page, her smile still bright on her face. Perhaps a little too bright.
He stumbled back, not even able to look at Richie. He took a quick left collapsing against the wall outside her door, his heart tripping around his chest like a Mexican jumping bean on meth. She didn’t even want him in the room with her. Had he failed her that completely? Did she hate him so much that she couldn’t even look at him?
“There’s my sweet boy! Jon, how’s my neighbor doing?” Mrs. Haden walked steadily down the hallway her cane thumping dully on the gleaming floor.
“Evidently she’s doing just fine.” He brushed her shoulder gently. “I have to go, Mrs. Haden.” He headed down the stairs, just a breath away from a run.