We were in the waiting room outside the intensive care unit and we’d been there for at least a half an hour. We’d checked in, were told that Clyde’s doctor would be to see us soon, but no one had come.
That couldn’t be good.
The room was empty with the exception of Jax and me, and for that I was grateful, because I was barely holding it together. When Teresa had called because they were five minutes from Jax’s house, I’d totally forgotten about them. Once I explained what happened, she immediately said they were coming to Montgomery Hospital, but I’d told them not to and that I’d keep them up to date. First off, I wanted them to enjoy their day in Philly, and second, I would lose it if they were here.
I was going to lose it anyway.
Now I paced the length of the sterile white room with taupe chairs and couches. All I knew was that it was a heart attack and it was bad. Clyde was in surgery. That’s it.
“Honey, I think you should sit down,” Jax suggested.
“I can’t.” I passed by the row of chairs. “How much longer do you think it’ll be?”
He leaned forward, resting his arms on his thighs. “I don’t know. These kinds of things can take a long time.”
Nodding absently, I crossed my arms over my chest and kept walking. “I knew something was wrong with him, especially last night. He’s been rubbing his chest a lot, looking red in the face or really pale. And he was sweating—”
“Calla, you didn’t know. None of us did. You can’t blame yourself for this.”
He had a point, but I’d seen the way Clyde looked last night when he’d showed up and ran off the kidnapper. I shook my head as anger stole up on me like a shadow in the darkest night. “Damn her,” I seethed.
I stared at him for a moment and then looked away. “I know a lot of stress has to be on him from the bar and her being gone. Hell, a lot of stress is on you! You’ve been running the bar for her and for what? Tips and minimum wage?”
A strange look pinched his features as he rubbed a hand along his stubbled jaw.
“I almost got kidnapped last night because of her and Clyde was out there. He doesn’t need this kind of stress. Look at what it’s done to him?” I stopped, unfolding my arms and squeezing my hands into fists. The anger turned into venom in my blood as I said, “I hate her.”
Jax blinked. “Babe . . .”
My breath caught. “I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help it. Look at what she’s done to everyone. And for what? I know her life has been hard, because I lived it! I was right there with her, Jax! I lived it, too, but I—”
“We probably wouldn’t be where we are today. You know that, right?” he said quietly. “She gave us that.”
She gave us that.
I clamped my mouth shut, shoulders tight. I stared into his eyes and then I looked away. The burn in my chest ached. And then as quickly as the poisonous bite had entered my veins, it eased away and I whispered, “Yeah, she gave us that.”
“You don’t hate her.”
My eyes closed against the rush of frustrated tears. “I know.”
The truth was that sometimes I wanted to hate her, because then I wouldn’t care about what was happening to her and what she’d done to her life. I wouldn’t worry about what the drugs were doing to her. I wouldn’t care if she had a roof over her head or clean clothes on her back. I wouldn’t care, and damnit, caring hurt.
As raw emotion that had been there long before today, this week, or even this year started to swell inside me, I started pacing again to burn it off. I focused on something else. “Why did they call you?”
“I’m his emergency contact, I guess.”
Meaning I wasn’t. I wasn’t the contact for a man who’d virtually helped raise me. It was stupid to feel guilty about not being Clyde’s emergency contact, but I knew that if I’d been around more, I would’ve been in the position to be contacted. It terrified me knowing that this could’ve happened and no one would’ve notified me.
And it hit me with the force of a speeding semitruck.
I’d been doing this wrong. My life. Completely wrong, because it had been my choices that led to me leaving this town and it had been my choices that had practically ended a relationship with a man who’d been the only good role model in my whole freaking life. I still could’ve kept in touch. I still could’ve come around. Fuck. Maybe if I had, Mom would’ve found it harder to wipe me out. Who knew? But I had run at the first chance I got, and I knew Clyde didn’t blame me for it, but still. I’d told myself that I hated the bar, but my happiest memories had been there. I lied to myself. A lot.
If I wore a map of courage, bravery, and strength on my back, I sure as hell hadn’t behaved that way in a long time. Not since Mom took my money and I met Jax.
My knees went weak, and I had no idea how I didn’t plant my ass on the floor. “Oh my God.”
Jax glanced at me. “Honey, he’s going to be okay.”
“If I hadn’t come back here this summer and if he still had a heart attack, I wouldn’t have known.” I stopped in front of him. “Jax, I would’ve never known, and what if he dies? What if this would’ve been my last chance to see him?”
His features tensed and then he snagged an arm around my waist and pulled me into his lap. His other hand cupped my cheek. “Honey, if something happened to Clyde I would’ve gotten in contact with you.”
Fresh tears rose. “But how? You didn’t know me or really how to find me. You knew of me, but that’s different.”
That look crossed his face again, but his hand slid around the nape of my neck and he guided my cheek to his chest. “I would’ve found you, honey, but you’re here and that’s all that matters.”
Snuggling deep, I wrapped my arms around him loosely and did something I hadn’t done in years. I prayed, seriously prayed that Clyde would be okay. And I kind of felt like a poser for praying, but I did it.
I stayed there until the door opened and I pulled away, expecting to see the doctor, but it was Reece who walked in, wearing his uniform. He was on duty. I tensed up, and he must’ve seen the look on my face and immediately reassured me. “I heard about Clyde. Just wanted to check in.”
“He’s in surgery,” I told him. “I don’t know anything else.”
“Known Clyde for a couple of years,” Reece said after he sat in the seat next to us. “He’s a strong man. He’ll pull through.”
I took an unsteady breath and Jax ran his hand up my spine. “Thank you.”
Reece didn’t say much, but he sat like he planned on staying for a while, and that left me warm and fuzzy. When the door opened again some ten minutes later, I saw Teresa coming through the door, followed by my friends, and my heart clenched.
I stared at them as they made their way over to where we sat. “What are you guys doing here?”
“We had to come,” Teresa said, sitting on the other side of us. She reached out and squeezed my arm. “We wanted to make sure you were okay.”
Cam and Avery took up the same kind of position across from us, her in his lap and resting her head against his chest. “None of us felt right.”
“We wanted to be here with you,” Jase tossed in, sitting in the seat beside Teresa.
I opened my mouth, blubbered up some kind of thank-you, and then I turned, burying my face in Jax’s throat. His arms tightened around me, and I told myself not to cry, because it was dumb, but I was rocking the overly emotional thing then, and I stayed that way until my eyes felt somewhat dry, and then I thanked them again. I pulled myself together and managed to hold and follow the conversation around me.
Over the next couple of hours, Roxy and Nick showed up at different times, staying until they had to get back to the bar. Roxy had steered clear of Reece, but when she left, he’d mysteriously gotten up and walked out, too. I wondered about that. Everyone who worked at the bar showed at some point, and it did good things for my soul to see so many people care about Clyde.
When I whispered that to Jax, he whispered back, “They also care about you.”
And he was right. As usual. It was getting kind of annoying.
The door opened again shortly after that and my stomach dropped when I saw that it was the doctor. I started to pull myself free, but Jax tightened his hold on me, and all I was able to do was face the doctor.
“How is he?” I asked, my heart thumping fast.
Dressed in blue scrubs and looking absolutely exhausted, the older woman smoothed a small, delicate hand over the top of her salt-and-pepper hair. “You’re family?”
“Yes,” I immediately responded. Blood or not, Clyde was family.
Her hazel eyes swept the waiting room. “All of you are family?”
“Yeah, we’re all family,” Jax responded then, his hand flattening along my stomach. “How is he?”
She walked over to an empty love seat catty-corner to where we sat and clasped her hands between her knees. “He’s made it through surgery.”
“Oh, thank God,” I whispered, slumping back against Jax.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” she went on to say, and I knew from my schooling that the next things she said were serious. “He suffered a major heart attack due to several blockages. We put in stents, because we usually . . .”
They usually saw faster recovery in those who had stents versus a bypass. As the doctor continued, two parts of my brain functioned independently of each other—the clinical side and the personal side. But ultimately, Clyde had made it through surgery and although this was a major surgery and I knew things could go horribly wrong from this point, he made it out of surgery and that was huge. Tears of relief built in the back of my eyes.
“He’s asleep now and he’ll be like that probably for the rest of the day, and right now, we really need to let him rest.” The doctor stood, smiling faintly. “If everything pans out tomorrow, at least one of you can visit him if he’s up to it.”
I came to my feet then, and Jax didn’t stop me. “Thank you—thank you so much.”
Her faint smile remained. “Now all of you should go home and get some rest. If anything changes between now and tomorrow, we’ll let you know. Okay?”
As the doctor left, I turned and Teresa was standing there. She wrapped her arms around me, and I hugged her back. “This is good,” she said. “This is really good.”
Blinking back the tears, I nodded. “I know. Clyde’s strong. He’ll pull through.” Sniffling, I edged back and smiled at her. Jax was standing beside me, and he took hold of my hand, threading his fingers through mine. He squeezed. “Thank you,” I said again, totally choked up as I turned to my friends. “Thank you.”
Avery smiled in return, and my eyes dropped to her waist for some reason. I don’t really know why, but I saw that they were being their typical most adorable couple in all of coupledom; her smaller hand was in Cam’s, their palms pressing together and his fingers curled around hers.
Just like Jax’s held mine.
It wasn’t until Monday afternoon that Clyde was well enough for a short visit. Jax had to stay out in the waiting area while a young nurse led me into his room.
Seeing him lying on the narrow bed, his once big and bulky frame appearing so frail, and covered with tubes and wires, shook me up.
My knees knocked together as he blinked slowly and then I swallowed the raw emotion building in my throat. I sat in the small chair beside his bed. Reaching out, I placed my fingers over his. “Hey there.”
A weak, tired smile appeared on his lips. His complexion was terribly pale. “Baby girl . . .”