“An hour? If it goes quicker I’ll track you down.”

“I’ll be in the waitin’ room. Where I’ve been for the past seven days.”

Walking out of the room was harder than he’d imagined. He needed a damn cigarette. Instead, he cleaned himself up. Although it was almost one in the morning, he started making phone calls. He could’ve just called Keely or Kimi and had them pass on the news, but after the tension of the last week, his kids needed to hear directly from him. The fairest way to do it was by birth order. He promised he’d call as soon as the doctors cleared her for visitation.

At the fifty-nine minute mark, Carson returned to her room.

The nurse was massaging Carolyn’s calves. They’d changed her hospital gown. She was still on oxygen. She sipped from a mug and a tray with toast and Jell-O sat on her adjustable table.

She blinked at him, her face blank. Then something clicked and she offered him a soft smile. “You’re back.”

“I told ya I’d be.”

“Man of your word,” she murmured.

“Always.”

The nurse adjusted the blanket over Carolyn’s lower half. “If you need anything, please hit the call button. But you should be aware that we’ll be coming in every thirty minutes to check on you.”

“Thanks.”

Then they were truly alone for the first time in a week.

Carson moved to the head of the bed. He framed Carolyn’s face in his hands. Before he said a word, he kissed her. Softly at first since he wasn’t sure if her mouth hurt from the ventilator tube. She tasted of toothpaste. She tasted like home.

She circled her hands around his wrists and held onto him.

More tears fell. His. Hers.

He kept the kiss easy and sweet. Then he rested his forehead to hers. “I love you. More than anything in this world.”

“I know. I love you too.”

“Thank you for comin’ back to me.” He kissed the corners of her mouth, tasting salty tears. “I was so goddamned scared you wouldn’t.” Shit. Should he have admitted that?

Carolyn pushed on his wrists so she could look into his eyes. “I heard you talking to me.”

“You did?”

“Yes. Every time I heard your voice I surfaced from wherever my subconscious was. You talking about your memories of us kicked me into mine. But then…” Tears spilled out the corners of her eyes. “I wasn’t sure if any of it was real.”

“Any of what?”

“Our life together. If I’d imagined it. If I’d somehow died and found a level of hell where hearing your voice reminded me of what I wouldn’t have again. I’d be lost forever floating in nothingness.”

He kissed her palm. “I’m here. This is real. We’re real. Been the real deal for fifty years.”

“Thank God.” She slumped back against the pillows. “Stay with me.”

“Try and get me to leave.”

After fifteen minutes of silence, it became apparent that not only was she highly uncomfortable, she was very agitated.

“Need something?” he asked casually.

“A different bed. This mattress is lumpy.”

Nothing he could do about that.

“It’s cold in here. I can see my breath.”

“You want another blanket?”

“No. I want them to turn on the heat.”

The logical part of his brain answered, “It’s summer, heat isn’t an option.” But the part of him that wanted to soothe her responded with, “Maybe they’ll bring you an electric blanket.”

“Maybe they should just move me to a different room with a better bed, better ventilation and better food.”

Carson leaned over and kissed her pouty mouth. “Have I told you how happy I am that you’re complaining about everything?”

“I’m not complaining about everything,” she said crossly.

“As long as it ain’t me in your crosshairs, I don’t care.”

“The night is young,” she warned. “You could still end up there.”

The doctors had mentioned she might be out of sorts for several days and the best way to deal with it wasn’t to ignore it. “Sugar. What’s goin’ on with you?”

“Why didn’t you tell me that they’d sheared my head like a sheep’s butt? I hate having half a head of hair. They should’ve shaved me bald.” Her annoyance quickly morphed into tears. “I look hideous.”

“No, you look beautiful and alive.”

“I want it gone.”

“What?”

More tears fell. “My hair. What’s left of it.”

“You sure?”

She nodded.

“I thought you might. I already talked to India about comin’ in and helping you—”

“Absolutely not, Carson. No one can see me like this. Do you understand? No one.” She cried harder.

Shit. “You want me to get the nurse?”

“No. You’re the only one I trust to do it.”

“Wait. You want me to trim your hair?”

“You used to give the boys haircuts.” She closed her eyes again. “It’s mortifying that I’m so weak I can’t hold my head up.”

“Good thing you’ve got me here to hold you up.” He pushed the nurse’s call button.

Nurse Lissa hustled into the room. “You rang?”

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