“Yes.” Eureka. He knew what I was talking about.
The doctor and nurse shared a look over my head. I didn’t want to look. I was pretty sure it wasn’t favorable to my recovery.
“They hired me. I think.” I frowned. How would I know if I’d been hired or not? My phone. I focused on Stone. “Do you have my phone?”
He nodded, resigned to whatever was going to happen. It wasn’t a happy look of resignation, but you know, the actual definition of resignation. A reluctant acceptance of what shit show was to come. I was the shit show, and he knew it.
He added, “I have all your shit at my place.”
“You already asked that.”
The doctor moved forward, bending to peer in my eyes again. “How many fingers do you see?” He was holding up three.
I said, “Four.”
I was lying.
Instant concern filled his gaze.
A deep, aggravated sigh left Stone again. “She’s fucking with you. She used to do the same thing when she skinned her knee as a kid. Her mom played along and it drove her dad nuts.”
I felt punched at the mention.
Stone shoved off from the doorway and strode forward, getting in front of the doctor and bent down to peer at me, face to face. “Stop fucking around. Stop hiding. Stop lying to yourself. All your shit’s at my place. I know you. We have ties. Come to my house. I will help you through this. I promise.” He wasn’t being gentle as he was saying all this. It was being delivered in a matter-of-fact way, but then he faltered, and he lightened his tone. “I never went to your mom’s funeral and I’ve always regretted it. She’d want me to help you, and I can right now. Stop fighting me.”
He didn’t get it.
I was already crumbling, though.
I felt it happening.
But I still whispered out, “I fight you, I fight them.”
He got it immediately. Understanding dawned, and he nodded. His eyes clouding a second, then he straightened, but his hand came out to touch my face. Fingertips tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, and his words undid me.
“Let’s go to my house. You can yell at me all you want there.”
I was falling. Slipping. Tumbling.
The tears were coming, but my God, no. I didn’t cry in public.
He saw them, and he chided softly, almost mocking me, “Pull yourself together, Phillips.”
I sucked them in but nodded to the doctor. “I’ll go home with Stone.”
This time it was late, after midnight when he rolled me out in the wheelchair. His truck was there, and I didn’t fight. Standing, climbing into the front seat of his truck this time. Before he could, I did my own seatbelt saying quietly, “I got it.”
He nodded, stepping back.
A few guys were outside, waiting, because I was realizing this was Stone’s life. He put the wheelchair away, then paused to sign autographs. A few pictures were taken. He waved them goodbye before climbing behind the wheel.
“The pharmacy?” There was a list of meds they wanted me on.
“I already filled them.” He was pulling out onto the interstate soon after. “You hungry?”
“I can eat?”
“Unless something’s wrong with your stomach, and in that case, I’m turning right back to the ER, but yeah. They didn’t say you couldn’t.”
I pondered it. I felt my stomach growling, but I shook my head. “I’m not hungry.”
“You sure? You haven’t eaten since they pulled the feeding tube out of you yesterday.”
Yesterday. Was it wrong to wish I could go back to that coma? No? Well, then. I might keep that one to myself.
“No,” I said faintly, watching the city lights flashing by me. “I’m not hungry.”
Then I remembered something about Stone. “Shouldn’t you be in bed? When do you have to be at the stadium tomorrow?”
“I have time.”
Oh, yeah. That was right.
I settled back, beginning to feel my eyelids growing heavy, but I didn’t fight it. At this point, I was hungry for any amount of sleep I could get. It was my only escape from this new reality.
Stone’s house was huge. I wasn’t surprised.
He hit a button and the gate opened, then he drove into an underground garage for his own house. He parked next to a Hummer and between a G Wagon on the other side. The rest of his garage was spacious and clean. He noticed my looks concerning both vehicles and grinned. “I indulged. My signing advance.” Then he was walking, opening the door to a back room. This was where he helped me take off a sweater a nurse gave me because I got chilled. He tossed it on a clothes washer and turned the lights on in the next room, proceeding into the house.
We went into the largest kitchen I’ve ever seen. A full island was in the middle.
There was another counter off of the side of the kitchen with eight barstools lined up along it. A huge, curved wooden table that I instantly loved, but our journey wasn’t finished. The grand tour continued. He gestured toward a darkened room on the left as we passed by. “That’s the more formal sitting area if guests come over.” But we were going up a set of half stairs.
He turned, going down a hallway.
He was leading me farther into the house, almost to a whole other section until he paused, and hit the lights in a room. “Guest quarters.” He pushed the door open farther and went in. He narrated as he pointed to each section, going in a circle. “Kitchen.” That was obvious by the setup with a fridge and everything. It was the size of the kitchen we had growing up. He kept going in a circle. “You got your own gym there.”
Really? A gym?
He didn’t wait, still going in the circle. “Your own living room area.” And still going. “Bedroom one.” A hallway was next. “Bedrooms two and three are farther down.”
He went to a door, opening it, and repeating the motion of hitting the lights. “And if you’re feeling motivated, you can do your own laundry.”
He flashed me a grin, then paused.
I was back to crumbling. He saw it and grunted, “A little bit longer, Phillips. Keep it together.”
On it. I could do that.
I shoved all the shit down, way down, and pulled up the numbness once again. The silly/fighting mood had gone. It wasn’t helping me hold back what I knew was going to hit me like a tsunami. It’d be relentless.
He turned the light off, closed the door, and gently touched my shoulders, turning me back to the stairs.
“I got a bit more to show you. Hold on.”
It was like he went on warp speed after that, rushing through the rest of the house.
He showed me a television room. A theater room. As he explained, they were different.
He had another gym in the basement, and it was attached to the garage. He showed me the door connecting them, then we were back and heading up into the house.
He ended by a different set of stairs and just pointed up. “I’m up there.”
“The tour is done?”
Got it. I dipped my head in a nod. “Can you show me how to get to my section again?”
Chuckling, he said, “You’re still not hungry?” He tapped my arm lightly. “I know how to make a mean Caesar salad, or you know, I might have some lasagna to heat up.”
He was teasing. He was being kind. And it was the worst thing he could’ve done.
I couldn’t hold them off anymore. They were slipping, so I turned so he couldn’t see my face and I made my voice like steel, “Forget it. I’ll find it.”
“Hey. Hey.” His hands touched my shoulder.
I pulled away from him, hurrying off. I’d find the fucking stairs myself.
Fuck this house.
Fuck everything he had gained and I had lost.
Fuck it all.
He still had his shitty parents, and mine—a sob ripped from me. I felt it rising, burning on the way, and I tried to quiet it, but I couldn’t. Stopping right at the stairs going to my section, I couldn’t hold them back anymore, and I couldn’t go any farther myself.
I bent over, right there, at the bottom stairs. My forehead went to my knees. I wrapped my arms around my legs, and I sobbed.
Deep. Guttural. Straight from the soul sobs.
He must’ve let me cry for a few minutes until I felt his hands on my back. “Fucking Christ, Phillips.” But he didn’t sound frustrated, and his hands were gentle. He knelt, his arms moving under me, and he picked me up.
He carried me to my room, going to turn the light on.
I couldn’t bear it. It was bad enough he was here, he was hearing me. If he saw evidence of my destruction, too?
I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.
“Okay.” A soft whisper from him.
“I need you to hate me.”
“I will.” He sank down on a chair in the corner, toeing the curtains out of the way so he could see outside his window, and there he held me. “Tomorrow we can go back to hating each other.”
I hiccupped on a sob. “Deal.”
So the rest of the night, he cradled me.
The rest of the night, I cried.
The rest of the night, we didn’t hate each other.