“And what’s that?”
Holly frowned. “But sweetheart, you’re so young.”
“By age, not experience. Please, you two. Just help me figure this out somehow. Help me at least see if this is a possibility. Otherwise, I’ll spend the rest of my life thinking about how I didn’t do everything in my power to keep the small bit of family I had left.”
They were quiet for some time, shooting glances back and forth. The two of them had such a powerful way of communicating with one another without using any words. Big Paw tapped a fist against his lips, and Holly rubbed her palm against her cheek.
“I won’t make any promises,” Big Paw grumbled, finally turning back to me. “I’ve never gone through anything like this, and I know there will be a lot of hoops that we’ll have to jump through.”
“That’s fine,” I eagerly replied, swallowing up the slim idea that Big Paw was on board with trying to get the baby into my custody. I’d do anything to make it happen. I’d leap over every hurdle and through every hoop if it meant I’d have a shot at raising my sister.
“And you still have to look into college, because no matter what, you are getting a degree down the line.”
“I can do online classes,” I swore. “I’ll do whatever it takes. I swear, Big Paw.”
He scowled, but I knew the only reason he was doing that was due to the fact that he was going to let me try to figure it all out. “You women are going to be the death of me,” he muttered.
I rushed him, wrapping my arms around his body, and I held on so tight, probably squeezing all of the air from his lungs. “Thank you, Big Paw.”
“Don’t thank me. I haven’t done anything yet.”
“But still, thank you. For everything you’ve done for me.”
He gave me a half smile, and I swore that was the first time I’d seen his lips do such a thing to anyone outside of Holly. “If by the grace of God we pull this off, I refuse to change any diapers.”
“Oh, Harry. You’re going to change whatever we tell you to change,” Holly said.
Big Paw grumbled some more, because he knew she was right. He sat back down in his chair and gestured toward the hallway. “Go check on your sister. We’ll be over there in a few.”
I did as they said and disappeared down the hallway. Before going into the NICU, I washed my hands thoroughly. My sister had been moved to a new space in the NICU. She wasn’t hooked up to as many machines, and there were holes in her incubator, which allowed people to reach in and hold her hands.
After I was done scrubbing myself clean, I walked over to her and smiled as she lay there resting. She was so small but so fierce, so strong. Such a fighter.
I slid my hand into the incubator and placed my finger in her palm so she could grip it. Her fingers were chilled, and I did my best to warm them up. I sniffled a bit as she wiggled around and made the quietest sounds. So many babies in the NICU cried for hours on end, but not my sister. She hardly made a peep. If I didn’t know better, I might’ve missed that there was even a baby in front of me.
“Hey, sweetheart,” I whispered, looking down at the angel. “I know you don’t know me, but you will so very soon. You see, I’m your big sister. I’m the one who’s going to be looking after you from here on out. I know this probably isn’t what you signed up for. Lord knows this wasn’t how I saw my life going, but that’s the thing about life: sometimes it just shifts without our permission. But that’s why we have to stick together, okay? Because when life shifts, it’s easier if you have someone to hold on to, so hold on to me, sis. I got you.” It may have been my imagination, but I swore it felt as if her grip around my finger tightened a little bit. As I held on to her hand, she finally opened up her eyes for me. I’d been waiting days for her to look my way, for her to give me her stare.
Her beautiful, beautiful hazel eyes.
“She’s stunning like her sister,” a voice said, making me tense up as I pulled my hand away from the incubator. His voice was deep and smoky and mine.
My mouth fell open and a hand flew to my chest as I turned to see Ian standing there. His eyes had bags beneath them, and his hair was wild, as if he hadn’t pushed a brush through it in days. He stood tall with a relaxed appearance. His eyes sparkled as he looked my way with his hands stuffed into his jeans pockets, and the smallest smile sat against his lips.
A heavy feeling sat in my stomach as my heartbeat raced. “What are you doing here?”
“Come on, Haze,” he softly said, walking toward me. He wrapped his arms around me and pulled me into an embrace. “I think you know the answer to that.”
I melted into his touch as if he were the sun and I were an ice cube. My hands fell against his chest, and I kept praying I wasn’t daydreaming his presence.
“You’re really here?” I asked.
“I’m really here.” He kissed my forehead, and I fell that much more in love. “Sorry I’m late.”
“But how, though? I thought your schedule was packed for quite some time.”
“I found a bit of wiggle room.”
“Ian—” I felt deflated, thinking that he’d chosen me over his music. That was what I was most worried about, him losing sight of his dreams because I was blurring his vision.