Wyatt winced, flexed his own fingers in sympathy. “God, that’s rough.”
“You know her? Back from your days…” He extended his arms, did such a terrible impression of someone playing the piano that he almost looked like he had Tourette’s.
“Nice,” Quinn told him, shaking his head in exasperation. “But, yes, we used to be…friends.”
“You used to be friends?” Wyatt wiggled his eyebrows meaningfully. “Or you used to be friends?”
“Seriously? Are you twelve?”
“Pretty much. The doc here says I’m emotionally stunted. It’s why I engage in pleasure-seeking behavior that is also destructive to myself and those around me.”
Quinn eyed him. In some ways that description sounded about right to him. In other ways, it sounded way too simplistic for a guy as complicated and screwed up as Wyatt. “And what do you think?”
“I think I’m a f**king heroin addict and an alcoholic. That’s what I’m here to kick. The rest of the psycho-babble pretty much goes in one ear and out the other.”
Yeah, that’s what Quinn was afraid of. “Wy—”
He waved him off. “Enough talk about my shit. It’s boring, man. Besides, we were talking about your friend.”
“She’s here, in Austin, totally alone. I went to visit her earlier, but they’re going to let her out in a day or two and I don’t know what she’s going to do.”
“What does she want to do?”
“She says she wants to go home to Chicago, but the doctor won’t let her travel for a week.”
“So where’s she going to stay for that week?”
“That’s the thing. When we were playing tic-tac-toe—”
“Tic-tac-toe?” Wyatt looked at him incredulously. “Is that what they’re calling it these days?”
“Dude, she’s in the hospital. Like a day out of surgery. Get your mind out of the gutter.”
“The only reason my mind’s in the gutter is the way you look when you talk about her.”
Quinn narrowed his eyes at him. “Can we get back to the issue at hand? She’s planning on going to a hotel, but I hate the idea of that. I mean, her left hand is in a cast, plus she’s on pretty heavy-duty pain medication after the surgery. She needs someone to take care of her.”
“And you want to be that someone.”
“I think I have to be. She has no one else.” The fact that he got a raging hard-on every time Elise so much as looked at him was something Wyatt didn’t need to know. Not when he had no plans to act on it, after all.
“What about her manager?”
A pang hit him when he thought of Ellington. “He died in the crash.”
Wyatt whistled. “Tough break.”
“She hasn’t got any.”
Someone else might have been shocked at the state of Elise’s life, but this was Wyatt, who had pretty much been alone since he came out of the womb. At least until he’d found Shaken Dirty. “You know, you could always take her home with you.”
“Yeah.” Quinn blew out a long breath. “That’s what I’ve been thinking about.”
“So, what’s the problem? You’ve got that huge house. Hire a nurse and you won’t even have to see her if you don’t want to.”
“It’s not that I don’t want to see her. It’s that…there’s some pretty shitty history between us.”
“I knew it. So you were ‘friends.’” He used his fingers to make quote marks around the word.
“We were. It ended not so great between us—”
“Meaning what?” Wyatt interrupted.
“Meaning I was a total dick. And while she was polite to me today, I know she doesn’t trust me. I don’t think she’ll come home with me.”
Wyatt’s eyes narrowed. “You still have feelings for her.”
“No…of course… I just… I want… No.”
His friend burst out laughing. “Yeah. That was convincing.”
“I feel responsible for her. She needs help and—”
“You need to give it. Believe me, I get it. Your savior complex is well-documented.”
Quinn rolled his eyes. “Can you just shut up and tell me what to do?”
“You know that’s physically impossible, right? For me to do both at the same time.”
He made a low, frustrated sound at the back of his throat, and Wyatt held up his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay. I’ll stop messing with you.”
“Thank you.” He waited impatiently for Wyatt’s advice. The guy’s own life was a total mess and he couldn’t help himself for shit. But when he was sober, he had an uncanny ability to get to the heart of other people’s problems and give advice that was almost always spot on.
It took a couple minutes, but then he said, “Well, you could always kidnap her.”
Quinn waited for the punch line, but when Wyatt didn’t say anything else, he turned to stare at his friend incredulously. “That’s it? That’s your advice? To kidnap a physically injured and emotionally damaged woman?”
“Pretty much,” Wyatt answered with a shrug.
“I’m sorry, but do you have any advice that doesn’t include me committing a felony?”
“Not so much, no.”
“Awesome. Thanks for nothing.” He turned away, took the steps leading down to the path of tranquility two at a time.
Quinn flipped him off and kept walking.
Wyatt laughed, then called after him. “Pick her up from the hospital. Tell her you’re taking her to the hotel, then take her to your place instead. Believe me, she’ll take one look at all that luxury and decide hanging out with you isn’t such a bad idea after all. You could put on some of those famous Bradford moves, get her all hot and bothered. She won’t know what hit her.”
Quinn flipped him off again.
“Or you could be a pu**y and just take her to the hotel. Then spend the next week worrying about her getting gangrene or some such shit.”
Quinn whirled on him. “Seriously? That’s the image I need in my head?”
“Just trying to help.”
“Yeah.” This time Wyatt’s grin was lopsided. “I get that a lot.”
Shit. “I didn’t mean—”
“Don’t worry about it, bro. Just go get your girl.”
“She’s not my girl. If she was, I wouldn’t have to kidnap her for the chance to take care of her.”
“So make her your girl. You know you want to.”
“I never said that’s what I wanted.”
Wyatt rolled his eyes. “Night, Quinn.”
“Night, Wyatt. Hang in there, okay?”
“Don’t I always?”
Quinn thought of Wyatt’s last overdose, of how Ryder, Jamison, and Jared had found him on their dressing room floor, not breathing and with no heartbeat. He’d walked in, in the middle of them giving Wyatt CPR. It was a sight that had haunted his nightmares ever since—and would for a long time to come.
“I got it, Quinn. I won’t do anything stupid.”
“You know my promises aren’t worth shit.”
“They are to me.”
“Jesus.” Wyatt pulled out a cigarette and lit it up. “Get the f**k out of here before you start singing ‘Kumbaya’ or some shit.”
“That’s Jared’s department.”
Wyatt snorted. “Don’t I know it?” With another wave, he turned and walked back inside.
Quinn watched his friend go, watched as the door closed behind him and his shoulders slumped, like he couldn’t stand the weight on them for one second more.
Quinn knew the feeling. Between the tour, the album, Wyatt, Jared, Micah, and now Elise, he felt like the world was collapsing all around him. Too bad he didn’t have a clue what to do about any of it.
They were releasing her from the hospital today. Thank God.
She was sick to death of being poked and prodded and pricked by needles. Of being woken up every two hours for concussion checks and blood pressure checks and temperature checks. Of never having any privacy.
It wasn’t like there was anything wrong with her anymore—besides the injuries to her hand. And since she had spent the last three days deliberately not thinking about those injuries, and what they meant, Elise was more than happy to get out of the place that kept reminding her about them.
And yet…there was a nervousness inside her too, a fear that she couldn’t quite conquer but couldn’t ignore either.
It wasn’t so much about where she’d go—she’d called yesterday and extended her reservations at one of the best hotels in Austin. She figured she’d stay there a week, taking advantage of room service and long, uninterrupted stretches of quiet, until the doctor cleared her for travel.
Then she’d go home to Chicago.
Just the thought made her stomach twist unpleasantly. Not that she had anything against her home town—it wasn’t like she’d spent enough time in the city where she’d “lived” for the last two decades to develop an opinion one way or the other. Which, of course, was part of the problem. The other part was that returning home would make everything that had happened these last few days all too real.
As long as she was here, in Austin, she could bury her head. She could ignore the truth, just like she could ignore the pain that came from losing Ellington. From missing his funeral. From acknowledging that she was injured so severely that she would probably never play piano professionally again. She could even ignore the fact that she was alone—totally alone—for the first time in her life. But once she walked into that huge house she’d inherited from her father, once she felt the yawning emptiness of the place, she wouldn’t be able to ignore the changes in her life anymore. Once it was just her and the silence, she’d be surrounded by the wreck her life had become. And the wreck she’d become right along with it.
God, she was turning into a cliché. And a maudlin one at that.
The nurse who had handed her the discharge papers to sign was prattling on about home care instructions—the pain medication they’d had filled at the pharmacy and that she was supposed to take, the doctor she was supposed to make a follow-up appointment with to take out her stitches, the surgeon she was supposed to see next week to check on the progress her hand was making. He was also the one who would finally clear her for travel.
Elise nodded, and murmured politely at appropriate times. She signed everywhere the nurse told her to. Even repeated her care instructions back to the nurse. And fought not to scream every time the nurse referenced her hand.
The discharge instructions finally came to an end long, interminable minutes later and Elise released the death grip she had on the bed railing. She was pretty sure holding onto it was the only thing that had kept her from snatching the nurse bald-headed during the last few minutes.
She climbed shakily to her feet and the nurse gestured for her to get into the wheelchair that waited at the foot of her bed. She wanted to protest—for some reason it felt important to her that she embark on this new stage of her life on her own two feet—but the woman had been insistent. Wheelchairs were hospital policy and in this one thing, there would be no exceptions. Knowing she had no choice—a refrain that was depressingly common in this new, post-accident life of hers—she followed orders and climbed into the chair.
Oblivious to her mood, the nurse chattered away as the elevator descended to the first floor. The doors opened silently and as she was pushed out of the car and into the long hallway that led to the front door, Elise’s stomach clenched more and more tightly.