Worth fighting for, p.21
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       Worth Fighting For, p.21

         Part #2 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley
 
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  I nodded eagerly, my heart lifting. Maybe she really had heard me this morning; maybe there was actually something in this talking-to-coma-patients crap that the doctors spouted.

  “I’ll be there soon! Thank you so much for calling.” I grinned, disconnecting the phone and looking up at Jamie, who was watching me curiously. “My mom just woke up,” I gushed excitedly.

  His face split with a grin as he pulled his car keys from his pocket. “That’s great news. Come on, I’ll take you to the hospital.”

  I nodded gratefully, the conversation between us immediately forgotten because all I could think about was hugging my mother and telling her I loved her.

  Maybe, just maybe, things were looking up for the Pearce family now.

  CHAPTER 21

  ON THE WAY out of Jamie’s apartment, I called home and told my nana the good news about Mom. As expected, she was over the moon and almost burst my eardrum with the earsplitting scream of joy she emitted. Luckily, it was now after three p.m., so even Kelsey was home. Jamie was taking me to my house now so we could meet up and all go together. On the drive, I couldn’t keep the broad grin from my face. After everything that we’d been through, this news made a whole world of difference and uplifted my heart.

  As we approached my house, I saw that my beloved green-and rust-colored monstrosity was parked in my drive. I frowned at it, confused. “How did my car get here?”

  “I had someone pick it up from the convenience store and bring it back for you,” Jamie answered casually.

  I patted my pockets, feeling the lump of my keys against my hip. “But how? I have my keys...” I turned to look at him in time to see a smile pull at his lips.

  “Me and my associates don’t need keys to start cars, remember?” he joked.

  My frown turned into a scowl of disapproval. “Right,” I muttered quietly as he pulled up at my house and killed the engine. “Well, thanks for the ride and for, you know, saving me from those guys even though it was your fault they were after me in the first place.” I smiled awkwardly. “I’ll see you around.”

  I didn’t know what else to say, and that had sounded a lot more final than I had intended. We still had things to talk about; he still had explaining to do, but I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to hear it. It would be a lot easier for me if I just got on with things and didn’t dwell on the past.

  As I reached down to unbuckle my seat belt, his hand stretched out, covering my knee. “Ellie, the Salazars might still be after you. I have people trying to find them. They shouldn’t be stupid enough to come and try anything again, but just in case, I need to have people watching you for the time being.”

  I turned in my seat, regarding him curiously. “What do you mean, watching me? Like someone following me around? I don’t want that.”

  One side of his mouth quirked up into a knowing half smile. “You haven’t seemed to mind it so far.”

  So far? What is that about? “Huh?”

  He looked away from me out through the windshield; his eyes fixed on my house. “Since the club last week I’ve had people watching you around the clock, just making sure you’re safe and that you’re not being followed or anything.”

  I gasped as everything clicked into place. “The guy in the sedan! He was at my dad’s funeral, too!”

  Jamie nodded once in agreement. “That was my friend Dodger. I’ve been taking a lot of the shifts myself, but a guy’s gotta sleep and eat...”

  Jamie had been parked outside my house; he’d been that close the whole time and I hadn’t known? A little stab of something twitched in my gut. “You’ve been sitting outside my house watching me?”

  “Well, that doesn’t make me sound like a stalker much,” he joked, smiling wryly.

  I smiled too and shook my head. I couldn’t deal with all of this now. I had somewhere to be. “Anyway, whatever. Thanks again for the ride.” I put my hand on the door handle, cracking it open.

  “Wait, let me put my number in your phone,” he ordered, holding out his hand for my cell. I frowned but reached into my purse and pulled out my broken phone, passing it to him. He punched in his number, then used my phone to call his own so he could store mine, too. When he handed it back, he smiled sheepishly. “You know, in case anything happens and you need to get hold of me.”

  “Okay.” I nodded. “Bye, Jamie.”

  “I can drive you to the hospital if you want,” he offered as I stepped out and shouldered my purse.

  I pointed to my little bug sitting in the driveway. “I got transport.” I closed the door and waved, expecting him to drive off up the street, but his car didn’t start; instead he continued to sit there and watch as I jogged into the house excitedly.

  “I’m here. Who’s ready?” I called as I burst through the door.

  Kelsey immediately bounded down the stairs, a huge grin on her face, and Nana came from the kitchen, her coat already on. I raised one eyebrow at Kelsey. “I’m telling Mom you had your sneakers on upstairs,” I teased, nodding down at her feet.

  She didn’t answer, just threw herself at me and hugged me so tightly it almost cut off my circulation. I grinned and hugged her back before pulling away. “Come on then, let’s go.”

  I stepped back outside again, noticing Jamie was still parked there. I sent a little frown in his direction, but couldn’t see inside his car because of the tinted windows, so I wasn’t sure he was watching. We all piled into my car and headed to the hospital. I noted, with some level of unease, that Jamie had pulled out behind me and was following along. Had he been serious when he said someone was going to have to watch me? Did he actually think those Salazar guys would come after me again?

  When we arrived, we all speed-walked the familiar path through the hospital, my nana tutting in annoyance at the slow ambling of the noisy elevator as it took us to the correct floor.

  My excitement to see my mom faded a little when we stepped into her room only to find that she was asleep. Kelsey frowned, her hand slipping into mine and squeezing tightly. “I thought you said she woke up?”

  My eyes roamed the room, seeing the subtle differences from this morning. Although the heart rate monitor continued its steady rhythm, spiking and falling gently as usual, the IV pole didn’t have a bag attached to it and was pushed against the wall, the drip in her hand had been capped off, and no tubes were coming out of her mouth or nose.

  “She’s just sleeping,” I whispered, stepping farther into the room and pulling Kelsey along with me. With her pressed against me so tightly, I felt the tension leave her body as she took in my words. I smiled over at her and nodded toward one of the chairs. “You and Nana sit, I’ll stand.”

  I walked to one side of the bed, letting them occupy the two visitor chairs on the other side. We waited in silence for a good five minutes before we started whispering to each other, planning ways to subtly wake her up and considering the consequences. And then her eyes fluttered open and closed again, and it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. I stepped closer to the bed as she fully awoke, her eyes settling on me.

  She blinked a couple of times, her forehead scrunching up as if she was confused, and then her mouth popped open and she gasped. “Ellison?”

  I nodded, beaming down at her. “Hi, Mom.”

  A little strangled cry left her lips as she reached out and touched a tentative hand to my cheek. “Oh, Ellison! It’s so good to see you; I’m so glad you’re here.” Her voice was weak and hoarse from the breathing tubes.

  “It’s good to see you, too,” I replied honestly.

  Her hand moved from my cheek to my hair as she caught a lock of it between her finger and thumb. “You cut your hair since we last video called.” Her smile was warm and tender; her eyes shined with affection that I’d never really associated with my mother when I was younger. “It’s shorter than mine now. I don’t think you’ve worn it this short since you were a baby. You always liked it longer.”

  Kelsey stepped to the other side, her hand re
aching out and taking Mom’s. My mom turned in her direction and her smile grew wider. “Kelsey,” she whispered, and then her eyes settled on Nana, who had stood up but stayed a little behind so Kelsey could get to the bed. “Betty, hi,” Mom greeted her.

  “Hi, Ruth. It’s lovely to see you awake; we were beginning to wonder how long you were going to sleep for,” Nana replied, smiling softly at her daughter-in-law.

  Mom tugged on mine and Kelsey’s hands, pulling them to her tummy as she held them tightly. “What happened? They said I was in a car accident.” She frowned, seeming confused about the whole thing. “But I don’t remember any accident.”

  I nodded, silently grateful because no one should have to remember things like that. “You and Dad were in a car accident. You’ve been in a coma, Mom.”

  She gulped, her confusion growing. “How long for?”

  “Almost two weeks,” Kelsey chimed in. “The doctors weren’t sure you’d wake up.”

  Mom looked at me for confirmation and I nodded. “You had extensive head injuries and a brain bleed.”

  She seemed shocked to hear this; her eyes widened and her grip intensified on my hand. Silence hung there for a few seconds before she looked around the room at the three of us again and her eyebrows knitted together. “Where’s Michael?”

  An instant jolt of grief hit me like a punch in the gut. The doctors hadn’t told her. She didn’t know. She’d slept through the whole thing and didn’t know her husband of twenty-two years, her college sweetheart, was gone. I remembered how hard it was for me when I heard the news; surely it was going to be ten times worse for her.

  I gulped and opened my mouth as Mom’s voice rose in a slight alarm as she looked at my nana. “Betty, where’s Michael?”

  Kelsey had begun to cry, big, fat tears rolling down her cheeks. I cleared my throat, willing my voice to come out strong as I looked at Nana. Her panic-stricken eyes met mine as her wrinkled lips pressed into a thin line. “Nana, why don’t you and Kels go get some coffee, and maybe buy Mom some magazines and candy for later?” I suggested.

  Nana nodded, her expression almost grateful as she stepped to Kelsey’s side and draped an arm around her shoulder. “That’s a good idea, let’s go get your mom some things she’d like, all right?”

  Kelsey looked at me and then down at my mom, whose eyes were now wide with panic as her gaze flipped between the two of us; she was gnawing on her lip so much that it was beginning to bleed.

  “Go on, Kels,” I encouraged her, nodding toward the door. As she let Nana lead her out of the room, an intense feeling of foreboding gripped my stomach.

  “What’s happened?” Mom rasped as soon as the door closed.

  I gulped, unsure how to even word it. “Mom, I’m so sorry,” I croaked, reaching out and putting my hand on her shoulder, squeezing gently. “Dad, he...” I shook my head, my vision swimming slightly from the tears that pooled in my eyes.

  She drew in a sharp intake of breath, her whole body becoming rigid. “No,” she cried. “No, it can’t be. He wouldn’t leave me, he wouldn’t. There must be some mistake, someone must have messed up somewhere along the line, it can’t be true.” Her voice broke several times as she spoke; her eyes stayed locked on mine and I could see a full range of emotions flickering across her face as she silently pleaded for me to tell her it wasn’t true.

  “I’m sorry, Mom. I’m so sorry,” I whispered, dipping my head and planting a kiss on her cheek.

  Her mouth popped open as she shook her head violently. “No,” she whimpered. “He’s dead? Your father is dead?”

  I nodded once, watching as her heart fragmented. Her chin trembled and her whole face crumpled. “But I can’t...He can’t be.” Her heart rate monitor jumped all over the place as she covered her face with her hands and cried so hard her body shook. “I want to die too, why didn’t I just die, too?” she moaned through her fingers, the sound harrowing and guttural.

  I groaned and felt a stab in my heart as I reached out, stroking her hair back from her forehead. “Mom, it’s okay, I’m here, and Kels, we’ll take care of you.” I didn’t have the right words; there was nothing that would lessen this pain she was going through, so all I could do was watch and support. I hated the helpless feeling.

  “Oh, Michael!” she cried.

  I looked at her heart rate monitor worriedly, seeing the numbers in the corner creeping higher and higher. She needed to calm down. She’d just awoken from a coma; she shouldn’t be so worked up because it wasn’t good for her. Silence filled the room, the soft sounds of weeping all that could be heard over the erratic pounding of my own heart.

  Her hands came down from her face, one pressing against her chest as her tears continued to flow. Her bloodshot, watery eyes met mine. “Your father was my soul mate, the other piece of my puzzle. I wish I’d told him more before it was too late.” Her lip quivered and she bit into it roughly, her breath hitching.

  “He knew, Mom.” Of that I was sure. All the adoring looks I’d caught him shooting her over the years, all the secret smiles, all the heartfelt I love yous he’d said to her when he thought no one was listening. He’d worshipped the ground she walked on, even on her off days, and he knew she felt the same.

  “I should have shown it more, sometimes I was so horrible to him,” she whimpered. She started crying harder. I had no idea what I could do or say to make her feel better, so I just leaned down and hugged her awkwardly, pressing my face into the crook of her neck as I wrapped my arm over her body, holding her as best I could in light of the awkward position of her lying on the bed. Her hand came up, tangling into the back of my hair as she gripped my other hand so tightly it was almost painful.

  Her body trembled and hitched under mine. Her tears wet my hair and dripped onto my face as she clung to me, lost in her grieving. I gulped, trying to remain in control as her heartbreak threatened to swallow me, too. In that moment, I had never felt closer to her as I shared her mourning. This was the first time I had ever seen her cry—the dust-in-the-eye crying of my traveling departure was nothing compared to this all-out, soul-crushing heartbreak.

  Eventually, her breathing evened out. My eyes stayed glued to the heart rate monitor as time passed, seeing the numbers in the corner slowly creep back down to a normal, steady rhythm. I pulled back carefully, looking down at my mother, now deep in sleep, her forehead and cheeks blotchy and splotched with red from all the crying.

  I swallowed, reaching up to wipe my own puffy, tearstained face as I sat down in the chair by the side of her bed and took her hand. As I watched her sleep, I actually dreaded the time when she would wake again and have to deal with the loss and grief of losing her soul mate. In the silence of her room, I actually began to wonder if it would have been kinder and fairer to her if she had died.

  A few minutes later, the door creaked behind me and I looked up to see the doctor step in. “She’s gone back to sleep. Is that normal?” I asked quietly, my voice raspy and dry.

  He nodded, picking up her chart and scribbling some notes. “Perfectly normal. Her body can heal itself better while she’s sleeping. She’s been through a lot; she’s very lucky. It was touch-and-go for a while there.”

  “I know,” I replied. I didn’t want to admit that along the way I’d kind of given up hope of this moment ever coming.

  “How long until she’s well enough to come home?” I inquired, stroking my mom’s hair back from her forehead.

  The doctor smiled. “There’s a long road ahead and I’m afraid it may be a little bumpy. Your mother will need to stay in at least a few more days. After that she’ll most likely need a wheelchair for a couple of weeks because of the extent of her injuries. There’s quite a bit of rehabilitation and physical therapy that’s going to be needed before she’s up and about and back to normal, but she’ll get there. With any brain injury, you can expect some good, lucid days and some bad days. She’s going to need extensive physical and emotional support.”

  I nodded in understanding a
nd lifted her hand to my lips, kissing the back of it gently. “That’s okay. I’ll be there.” And I would. Always.

  CHAPTER 22

  THE MOOD ON the drive home from the hospital was distinctly more somber than on the way there. We’d all been so excited when we got the news she was awake; everyone was so happy, it hadn’t even occurred to any of us that Mom was two weeks behind events and wouldn’t know about my dad’s death. If anything, our moods were lower than before; we were all sharing in my mom’s newfound grief.

  She’d woken and drifted off a couple more times during the visit, and each time had been just as heartbreaking as the first when she remembered and burst into hysterical sobs. The worst was when I told her we’d already held the funeral. She’d been devastated she hadn’t been there to say good-bye, and wailed about what Michael would have thought of her not being there. There had been no consoling her. The guilt I felt surged within me, twisted in my gut like a knife. But the more rational part of me knew I was punishing myself for nothing. The doctors had told me not to wait, that they weren’t confident she was going to wake. We could have been waiting forever for something that might never have happened; no one could see into the future.

  Another part of me decided it was a good thing my mom had missed it. Her last memories of Dad were untarnished; she couldn’t remember the crash, so the last thing she said she remembered was being in the car and my dad singing—badly—to some Spandau Ballet song on the radio, trying to make her laugh.

  I envied her. Whenever I thought of my dad now, all I saw was the funeral, the groups of crying people gathered, and the coffin sitting on the little raised platform. So maybe it was a good thing she’d slept through it; I kind of wished I had.

  Leaving my mom had been hard. She was so broken and weak, miles away from the strong and in-control woman I’d come to know and love. It was like she was a little girl lost in a storm; the hospital staff had eventually given her a sedative to help her
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