“No. You and I would go out and do our own thing – catch a movie or something.”

His offer was sweet, but no, I could handle this. I leaned in and kissed his cheek. “I’ll be fine.”

He smiled at me, a genuine heart-warming smile that put me at ease. “Okay. Choice is yours. If tonight gets to be too much, just say the word and we’re gone.”

As nice as it was knowing I had options, I needed to do this – if only to prove to myself that I could. “I’m good. Just don’t leave me alone with Jimmy Shane. You remember how grabby he was in high school?”

“He tries to touch you and I can promise I’ll remove every finger from his hand.” He grinned. “Well, I just stopped by to see if you needed anything from the store…my mom’s sending me out for more eggnog before the party starts.”

“Nope, I’m good. I just need to finish getting ready.”

“Okay, see you soon then.”


When a police officer stood at the front door an hour later, his face ashen and grim, my stomach plummeted to my toes. It was eerily similar to that fateful day two policemen had shown up at my door and told me about my parents. All those horrible feelings came rushing straight back. I gripped the arm of the man standing next to me, not caring in the slightest that it was Jimmy Shane.

I watched in slow motion as Brian’s parents, Patty and Dave, stepped into the hallway with the cop. When Patty broke out in a loud sob and buried her face against her husband’s chest, I crumpled into a ball, collapsing onto the floor. Something had happened to Brian.

The room around me spun, tilting and pitching violently. The police officer left, Dave got Patty settled on the couch, and then made some type of announcement. The blood rushing in my ears blocked out what was said. Or maybe I just wasn’t ready to know yet. Party-goers began to filter out. I remained frozen to the spot I’d claimed on the living room carpet, too afraid to move, unable to think.

When Dave lifted me to my feet a short time later, I struggled to make sense of his words. The roads had been icy. Brian was in a car accident. He was at Mercy West in critical condition. He handed me my coat and was waiting for me to respond.

“Are you coming with us?”

Brian was alive? “Of course.”

We piled into the car, my nerves completely shot. Even though Brian was alive, I couldn’t let myself breathe just yet. My dad had survived his accident for two days in critical condition before the blood hemorrhage in his brain ended his life. And I knew Patty and Dave were probably thinking the same thing. They’d stayed by my side through it all, sleeping in hospital waiting rooms and eating out of vending machines right alongside me. It was only fitting that I be here now with them in their darkest hour. Hugging my arms around myself for warmth in the backseat, I watched as they held hands on the center console – gripping each other tightly. I felt scared and alone.


Brian looked worse than I expected. And even though I’d been down this road before, nothing could adequately prepare you to see someone you care about pale and broken in a hospital bed, punctured with tubes and hooked up to machines beeping about God knows what. But for his parents’ sake, I tried to be the calm one and hold it together while they cried over his limp and battered body.

He had lacerations on his face and head from flying glass, a punctured lung when the airbag deployed after he’d struck the lamppost, a concussion and a leg broken in three spots. But he was stable and assuming he did well over the next couple days, he’d be downgraded from critical to serious condition. The doctors were taking every safety precaution, but believed Brian would pull through.

The next day was a blur – but in an all too familiar way. The constant worry and stress, the sterile hospital air, a stiff neck from sleeping in an uncomfortable chair, and the dark circles lining my eyes were all too familiar.

In the chaos of it all, I’d somehow forgotten it was Christmas Day. I thought of Knox and the boys and missed them with every ounce of my being. I wanted nothing more than to be wrapped up tight in Knox’s strong arms and tucked safely away from all this heartache. But I supposed being near him brought a different kind of heartache. I wondered what they were doing today…if they had a Christmas tree in the living room with wrapped presents underneath, or if they were working together to make a big dinner later.

I looked up to see Dave dozing quietly in a chair beside Brian’s bed and Patty flipping through a magazine for the twelfth time. “I’m going to go make a quick phone call,” I whispered to Patty. “You want another cup of coffee?”

“Sure, hon, that’d be great.”

It was all she’d eaten or drank since we’d arrived here yesterday.

Stepping into the hallway, I took a moment to gather myself. I had no idea what to expect calling Knox. We hadn’t talked in eight long days. Not since he’d so thoroughly claimed my body and then let me walk away without a backward glance.

I leaned against the wall for support, drawing deep breaths as I dialed his number.

“McKenna….” he answered on the first ring.

The rough sound of his voice brought a thousand memories rushing back. “Hi.”

“Are you still in Indiana?” he asked.

I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Yeah.”

“What’s wrong? Did something happen?”

I should have known he’d hear it in my voice. He knew me too well. “Oh God, Knox….” Tears sprang to my eyes and the tightness in my chest threatened to close my throat. “It’s Brian…I don’t know what to do….”


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