Chopin. Why did Chopin stop?
I peel open my eyes.
Flint scoots me off his lap and fastens my seat belt. “Here.” He hands me a bottle of juice.
I look out the window of the vehicle, at first not recognizing much in the darkness, but then a few familiar buildings pass by and I know where we are—Falmouth, Massachusetts. “Oh my God. How did I get here?”
“Music therapy.” Flint gives me a small smile.
I shake my head.
He shrugs, looking out his window at the road. “There may have been a few medicinal herbs involved.”
He drugged me. I remember seeing that small—no, tiny plane. It doesn’t matter. Reality of this whole situation seeps back into my mind. My dad …
“Drink.” Flint nods to the juice.
Untwisting the cap, I drink it.
I don’t wait for the vehicle to completely stop before jumping out with a slight wobble to my legs and rushing toward the emergency entrance.
I need a room number. The stroke unit. Anything other than that look—the one followed by she’ll have a doctor come speak with me. I’ve been with families who get that look, get that diversion. It only ever means one thing.
The nurse gives me a room number.
Thank you, God.
It’s after eight at night. The nurse finds a doctor to give me an update before they let me see him. He’s asleep. I expected as much. But he’s alive.
“You can’t leave me, old man.” I laugh with tears sliding down my cheeks as I take his hand in mine. “I was going to come see you. You didn’t have to have a stroke over it.”
“I love you. I need you. If you leave me …” That’s all I get out. It hurts too much, but I know he knows. We’ve never let our emotions go unspoken.
“My darling girl, the words I love you only hurt the people who refuse to set them free. So when you feel it, say it.”
“But, Daddy, what if I don’t mean it?”
“Feelings are our greatest compass. They will always lead you to the truth.”
“I’m scared of the truth, Dad,” I whisper.
When the nurse comes back in to check his vitals, I go out to the waiting room. I don’t know if Flint’s there. Maybe he got me to Massachusetts and turned around to fly home. In the history of long days, this is number three. The first was my mom’s plane going down. The second was the day Alex went missing after the avalanche. I need this outcome to be better.
He’s still here.
I stop at the entrance to the waiting room. Flint’s leaning against the wall by a window, focused on the screen to his phone. He’s a mess—his hair has given up on the gel, his long-sleeve shirt is wrinkled and half untucked. I think there’s a hole in his jeans, and he’s wearing the same sneakers he had on the day we got carried away in his greenhouse.
But … he’s here.
And as if he knows I’m standing here staring at him, he looks up.
I try to muster something resembling composure and gratitude, but it’s really hard to do while my heart waits for permission to beat again—until my dad wakes up.
“Thank you.” I swallow hard and rub my lips together. They’re salty from being bathed in tears all day. “That’s really inadequate.” I grunt a painful laugh. “I don’t remember everything, but I’m pretty sure you put me on a private jet. I don’t know how you did it.” I shake my head. “But thank you feels so pathetic.”
With his brows drawn tight as if he’s in his own pain, he nods slowly. “How’s your dad?”
“Asleep. It was a stroke. They’ll know more over the next twenty-four hours, but he doesn’t need surgery. He could go home within a week.”
“That’s good, right?”
“Yeah. He’s not out of the woods yet. But …” I nod toward the hallway to his room. “I’m going to stay here tonight. So…” I shrug “…you’re off the hook. I’ll figure out a way to make it home. I’m good with trains and rental cars. I packed my stuff in boxes at your office. I’ll call someone in the morning to move them out of your building and return my car to my apartment.”
“You should eat something.”
I shake my head. “I will, but not until tomorrow.”
“Lori.” I smile before turning back to Flint. “Again, a huge, inadequate thank you. Tell Harry I’m sorry for taking you away today.” I rest my hand on his arm. “Have a safe flight home.”
When I turn back around, Lori pulls me in for a hug. Over her shoulder, I watch Flint leave.
I should have moved out of his office the day he asked me to leave. But I liked it there—and I liked him.
I get a hotel room, take a shower, and make a few calls. By one in the morning, I still can’t get to sleep, so I go back to the hospital.
Ellen’s in her dad’s room, but I feel the need to be near her in case she needs … anything. That realization gives me more than a moment’s pause in my life. Am I here because she may need me or because I may need her?
In the waiting room, there’s something resembling a sofa; basically it’s three connected chairs without armrests separating them. I make it work, using my jacket as a pillow. Nurses pass through with their coffee refills. One of the florescent lights in the distance flickers every few seconds. It’s just an eerie place to be—the pungent odor of disinfectants, the occasional page over an intercom, and every so often the ding of the elevator doors.
By three a.m. my eyelids begin to feel heavy. A slender figure moves in the hallway. I can’t see beyond the shadows, but I recognize the messy hair. Her feet scuff along the floor, stopping every couple of steps to twist her body in one direction and then the other before stretching her arms above her head and leaning side to side, taking more steps toward the waiting room.
Just as her face comes into the light, she stops, eyes on me. Her hand covers her mouth for a few seconds.
I ease to sitting, leaning forward with my elbows resting on my knees as I rub the fatigue from my face. When I glance up, she’s still there—frozen in place. Crooking my finger at her twice, she moves one hesitant foot in front of the other, inching her hand away from her mouth.
Taking her hand, I press my lips to the inside of her wrist.
She draws in a shaky breath. “You should leave,” she whispers.
“Why?” I look up, my lips still savoring the warmth of her skin.
“Because if you don’t, I’m going to fall in love with you.”
We gaze unblinkingly at each other for a few seconds. My other hand snakes around her waist, pulling her closer. She eases onto my lap, straddling me with her knees. I thread my hands through her hair. “I’ll risk it.” I kiss her. She slides her arms around my neck and hums, moving her lips from my mouth to my jaw and down my neck until settling into the crook and releasing a contented sigh.
I close my eyes and let her hum me a lullaby.
I ease off a sleeping Flint, grab some coffee from the cafeteria, and check on my dad. He’s asleep. It’s possible that he’ll sleep all day. No two stroke cases are the same. The nurse doesn’t expect the doctor to check in on him for another couple hours.
My phone is low battery—I am low battery. I need a shower, food, and a toothbrush. Hell, I need clothes and underwear. The original plan was for Abigail to take me home to pack. Flint must have thought the best chance of getting me on a plane was to drug me in the car and get me in the air without hesitation.
“Can you call me if he wakes before I return or if the doctor gets here early?” I ask the nurse, handing her my business card.
She nods and smiles.
It’s just before six in the morning, five o’clock in Minnesota. I need to find help with my babies. They’ll need food and water soon, but I don’t want to call anyone quite this early.
The waiting room is minus one Flint Hopkins. Maybe he went to get coffee. Maybe I said too much and he’s gone. I regret nothing. I took my dad’s sage advice and told Flint how I felt. So if he can’t handle me falling in love with him, then he’d better run.
Before my phone completely dies, I text him.
ME: I’m running out in quick search of a shower and food. Where are you? If you’re halfway to Minnesota, thanks again.
I press the elevator button.
“The restroom down the hall.”
I grin at the voice behind me.
“Not halfway to Minnesota,” he finishes as if it’s an absurd assumption.
I turn and shrug. “I wouldn’t blame you.”
The elevator doors opens. Flint takes my hand and pulls me onto it. I like how small my hand feels in his hand. I like that he wants to hold it even while he holds and scrolls through his phone screen with his other hand.
“You have people who depend on you, so I know you can’t stay. You should go home.”
He keeps his eyes on his screen. “I feel like you’re trying to get rid of me.”
“I feel like you’ve taken pity on me.”