Cowboy take me away, p.54
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.54

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James

  “I knew from the time I was a little girl that you and Mom had the heart-body-and-soul kind of love everyone dreams of. As I grew up I knew I’d never settle for anything less.”

  “You didn’t.”

  “I know.” Her chin dropped to her chest and her hair hid her face. “After all this shit happened with Mom, Jack told me what you said to him on our wedding day. That a husband’s first priority is always his wife. Period. To love her, cherish her and protect her above all else. That you’d done that for your wife and you expected he’d do the same for me. Even if it went against what you and Mom wanted for me. The bond between parents and children was special. But a bond between husband and wife was sacred.”

  Keely looked up; those big blue eyes glistened with tears.

  “Darlin’ girl, I’m hangin’ on by a thread here, and your tears do me in almost as quickly as your mother’s, so can we talk about something else?”

  “Sure.” She blew out a long breath. “But it might make you mad.”

  Fuckin’ fantastic. “What now?”

  “We—all your kids—planned a huge surprise fiftieth wedding anniversary party for you and Mom next month. We rented out the Sundance community center, hired a band for the big dance. We came up with a killer menu with amazing food because we wanted to do something really special for Mom since she always makes such great meals for all of us.”

  “That she does.”

  “We compiled a list of two hundred of your closest family and friends to invite—” she grinned, “—plus we drafted an announcement to put in the paper the weekend before the party, opening the reception up to everyone in town. That’s when we planned to tell you so you wouldn’t have been caught totally off guard.” Her eyes searched his. “Tell me the truth. Did you catch wind of any of this?”

  “Hell no.” He hated to burst her bubble, but a big damn party was the last thing they wanted to celebrate this milestone in their lives.

  “Now, everything has changed. Who knows how long it will take Mom to recover, so we’re cancelling it.”

  “It’s disappointing after you put in so much work, but it’s the right thing to do.” He paused. “Tell you what, keep all them ideas and use ’em for our sixtieth anniversary celebration.”

  She smiled. “Good plan. Now that’s out of the way, can we talk about the medical stuff?”

  He nodded.

  “When are the docs starting the coma reversal process?”

  “I’m meetin’ with them sometime today to hear their recommendation.”

  “You’ll keep in touch with me so I can pass on the information?” Keely nudged him. “It’d be easier if you learned to text.”

  “No, missy, I surely do not need to learn that. If I need to tell you something I’ll call ya.”


  “I have no idea what you’re talkin’ about.”

  She laughed and leaned over to kiss his cheek.

  Carson slammed the tailgate shut. “Should I prepare myself for visits from your brothers?”

  Her smile vanished. “Like I said, I don’t speak for anyone besides myself. But they need to clear the air with you before you let them see Mom. Not as a stipulation for seeing her, but because they owe you an apology. And we both know Mom will pick up on any bad family vibes. She’ll need to concentrate on getting herself better, not worry that her sons have redefined jackass in dealing with you. I’ll tell them that if you’d like me to.”

  “Do what you have to, punkin. Your mom will want to see her sons regardless if they’ve been pissed off at me or not.”

  “You’ll call? As soon as you know anything?”

  “I promise. Give Pipsqueak and Katie-bug a hug from me. Same for JJ and LC.” He was the only one who called Liam LC, but the boy was his namesake, so he was entitled.

  “I will. Love you Daddy.”

  “Love you too, Keely girl.”

  His appetite had disappeared so he skipped the cafeteria and stepped into the elevator. He needed to shower and change his clothes but he couldn’t get it done in the twenty minutes before he could visit Carolyn again.

  He froze inside the ICU waiting room door, seeing Cord gazing out the window.

  His son turned toward him. “This is a shitty view.”

  “Most of the time when I’m staring out I don’t see nothin’ anyway.”

  “Wish I coulda heard what you and Keely were talkin’ about down there,” Cord said.

  Carson noticed Cord’s hands were jammed in his pockets. An indication of his oldest son’s nerves. “That wasn’t a bait and switch? Keely talks to me while you sneak up here?”

  “Keely don’t know I’m here. I was surprised to see she’d shown up at the same damn time.”

  “She came to apologize.”

  “I came to apologize too.” He blew out a breath. “Straight up, no excuses, Dad, I was an asshole. I don’t know what the hell I was thinkin’. It’s like I stood outside my body and watched myself reverting to that twenty-something kid who didn’t like what you were tellin’ me so you had to be wrong. The only reason you were actin’ like that was because you had to show us that you still had power over us and weren’t—”

  “A retired rancher with nothin’ better to do than deny my kids access to their mother when she’s in a life or death situation?”

  Been a long time since he’d seen his son blush, but he did.

  “Sounds like we’ve got some things to talk about. Have a seat.”

  “Feels like I’m ten years old getting called into your office for some stupid stunt.”

  “You spent plenty of time on the bench over the years. Not as much as Cam and Carter.” Carson lowered into the chair opposite Cord.

  “How is Ma?”

  “No change. I’m meetin’ with the docs today. I imagine they’ll start bringing her out of it in the next twenty-four hours.”

  “She’s…” Cord closed his eyes. “Fuck. I can’t imagine how you’ve held it together.”

  “Who says I have? I’m a fuckin’ mess.”

  “Not that I’ve known since I haven’t been around to offer any support. None of us have.” Cord looked at him with anguished eyes. “The worst part is when I hear Mom’s voice in my head: I raised you better than this, Cord West McKay. Your father needs you. Jesus. You’ve been there every goddamned time I’ve needed you. Even sometimes when I haven’t wanted your help. And when you need me—you need us—you’re forced to go it alone. How in the hell are you ever gonna forgive us?”

  “I’da been alone in this even if you’d all been here. In some ways, this was my choice.” He raked a hand through his hair. “Look. I ain’t one for that psycho-babble crap, but I think there’s more to how you reacted than you wanna admit. Yeah, I know you’re scared for your mother. I know you’re scared for your kid. Ky is bucking your authority, so the way you deal with it is by bucking mine.”

  “That’s the definition of mature,” he said dryly. “Ky said he talked to you. You told him that he needed to ask me about when I up and moved to Seattle. Did you really admit to him that you’d handled the situation wrong?”

  “I told you I was in the wrong back then and I’m tellin’ you now. You were right to go but it was hell when you left. I swore I’d never do to my kids what my dad done to me. But I did it to you. And because I’m a stubborn fool, I didn’t learn my lesson, I did the same thing to Colt.”

  Cord rubbed the back of his neck. “What goes around, comes around, huh?”

  “Yep. So I’m askin’ you to be the bigger man and the better father. Don’t make the same mistake with Ky that I made with you.”

  “What if he goes off to college and he doesn’t ever come back here?”

  There was the real fear and Carson remembered it clearly. “You’ll survive. We did with Carter. I miss seeing him as often as I do you kids that live around here, but we keep in touch. Carter is doin’ what he’s meant to do. Ky will too. You’ll find a way to deal with it. For now, let him decide
where he wants to spend his college years. Your job is to enjoy the time you’ve got left with him here. And I will point out that you did come back.”

  Cord sighed. “When did you get so damn smart?”

  “Learned it the hard way after years of bein’ stupid.”

  He laughed. “I resemble that remark. You gonna tell Ma that I was a total dick to you?”

  “I ain’t gonna lie to her. She’ll find out, but it won’t be the first thing I tell her. And it shouldn’t be the first thing none of you tell her neither.”

  “I ain’t here only on my own behalf. Colby plans on comin’ by in a few hours. As does Cam when he gets off shift. I don’t know about Colt and Carter.”

  Probably wasn’t the best time to tell Cord he’d talked to Colt and Carter the past two days. He’d never played favorites with his kids; there were just times when he had closer connections with some than others. This was one of those times.

  “You will call us?” Cord prompted.

  “As soon as she’s awake.”

  Cord stood in front of him. “Give me a hug, old man.”

  They did the back slapping, man-hug thing and it was all good.

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Hospital, Day 7—late afternoon

  The doctors approached Carson in the ICU waiting room twenty-four hours after he’d last spoken with them.

  “I hope you’re here with good news.”

  “Yes. The swelling is down and her EEG is within the normal range. The wound on the back of her head has healed quicker than we expected. We’ve determined it’s time to bring her out.”

  Carson bowed his head and said a silent prayer of thanks.

  “There are a few things you need to be aware of as she becomes conscious.”

  His head snapped up. “What?”

  “She will be confused. Possibly agitated. She will have memory lapses.”

  “You told me this was the safest course of treatment for her and now you’re tellin’ me when she wakes up she might not remember…” Jesus. What if Carolyn opened her eyes and looked at him like he was a stranger?

  His lunch threatened to come back up.

  “Mr. McKay, this was the safest course of treatment. Any treatment has risks. But the memory lapse I’m speaking of is related to the day of the injury itself.”

  “So she won’t look at me and not know who the hell I am?”

  “Highly unlikely.” Dr. McMillan leaned forward. “She will be very disoriented immediately upon waking. Some patients are angry, some are frustrated, some don’t speak at all and remain in that dazed state for days. Other patients can’t separate hallucinations from reality; unfortunately nightmares can sometimes be a side effect of being sedated with that particular cocktail of pharmaceuticals.”

  He froze. “You mean she might’ve been havin’ nightmares the entire time she was under?”

  Dr. Vincent nodded. “Before you start ripping into us, there is no way for us to accurately predict how this procedure will affect each individual.”

  “I’ve had follow up visits with patients who remember absolutely nothing of their time in the coma; they literally thought they’d been asleep for a few hours. And others who recall exactly what people said while speaking to them. And other patients who can recite specific medical progress and problems from physician’s conversations.”

  “Which is why we’re very careful to never speak negatively in front of the patient and never assume they cannot hear us,” Dr. Vincent added.

  “So she ain’t outta the woods yet.”

  “Yes. And no. Yes, meaning we’ve successfully eliminated the swelling in her brain as intended. No, because your wife will have several days of recovery here at the hospital before she starts other forms of therapy. After a week of zero physical activity she will experience muscle weakness. Most likely she’ll be hungry but eating might make her nauseous at first. We’ll monitor her lung function very closely for signs of infection. She may be afraid to go to sleep. She may exhibit manic behavior. Happy one minute; crying or yelling the next. The most important thing you need to remember, Mr. McKay, is patience. But do not ignore or discount anything she tells you, even if it sounds bizarre. This has been a traumatic experience for you, but it’s even more so for her.”

  Carson rubbed the back of his neck. “She’ll need physical therapy?”

  “It’ll depend, but it’s usually recommended. She might also need speech therapy. We can’t be sure if she sustained any permanent damage in those cognitive areas due to the swelling until she’s awake.”

  “How long will it take to wake her up?”

  “Again, it depends. After we remove the ventilator and put her on oxygen, I’ve seen a person come out of it in as little as six hours.”

  Carson noticed he didn’t give an estimate on a longer amount of time. “Can I be in the room with her?”

  “Yes, as long as you understand that when she regains consciousness the medical team will have necessary assessment procedures to complete and you cannot interfere in any way.”

  “I ain’t gonna get in anyone’s way. I just…need to be there with her when she wakes up.”

  “Understood. We’ll get this underway and the ICU nurse will keep you abreast of every step.”

  “I appreciate it.”

  Carson watched the doctors leave, conferring in low tones. He probably should let his kids know where they were in this process, but he couldn’t deal with the questions he didn’t have answers to until Carolyn actually woke up. And if she woke up confused and irritated… He didn’t think their first interaction with their mother should be when she didn’t have any idea what was going on.

  The better plan was to wait to tell them.

  He was fucking sick and tired of waiting. He wanted his wife—and his life back.

  The staff had brought a chair into Carolyn’s room. Like before, every hour he spoke to her, urging her to come back to him.

  The first time she moved her hand, his heart leapt.

  The first time her eyelids twitched, his entire body thrummed with anticipation.

  Not long now.

  Although the six hours he’d been sitting in the chair seemed like another six days.

  At hour eight there was a flurry of activity, nurses coming into the room. They blocked the bed so he couldn’t see. It took every ounce of control not to jump up and demand to know what the hell they were doing.

  Then he heard it.

  Carolyn’s voice.

  And nothing could’ve stopped him from going to her side.


  He saw her eyes were open.

  The nurse asked questions but Carolyn was too confused to answer. Agitated, she shook her head and winced.

  When she noticed him, she blinked. The confusion remained in her eyes.

  “Hey, sugar.” He reached for her hand and kissed the tips of her fingers. “I’ve missed you like crazy.”

  Her hoarsely whispered, “Carson?” was the single most potent word he’d ever heard.

  He let his tears fall, unable to make his vocal cords function, but also unable to stop smiling.

  The nurses gently shunted him aside while still allowing him to hold her hand.

  She asked for water. She asked to sit up.

  He caught her wild-eyed gaze zipping around the room as she sipped from a straw. She lifted her other arm and tried to make a fist. When she could barely do it, she dropped her hand back in her lap. “How long have I been here?” she asked the nurse.

  “Seven days.”

  “I’ve been lying in bed like a vegetable for a week?”

  “You’ve been in a medically induced state of suspension while your body healed from your injury, ma’am.”

  That was PC.

  “I need…” Carolyn became very frustrated when she couldn’t verbalize her needs. She said, “I hate this,” to no one in particular.

  “It’ll get better,” the nurse assured her.

  “I feel di
sgusting. I want a shower.”

  “The best I can offer you until you’re more stable is a sponge bath.”

  Carolyn squeezed her eyes shut.

  Carson saw her humiliation. As much as he didn’t want to leave her side, he had to. She needed to feel like herself and have some control. “Sugar, if these ladies are bathing you, I’ll step out for bit.”

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