The hospital's emergency room doors swept open with a rush of air, and I squeezed Abby's hand, pulling her through the threshold. Exhausted mothers holding sick babies were sitting alongside frail old men, and a group of skateboarders sitting around a friend who was holding his wrist against his chest. Moaning, whimpering, babies crying, cell phones ringing, and announcements over the PA system made me want to bail.
Beyond the borders of the waiting room, behind secured, double doors each with small, rectangular windows, came a muffled ruckus--a man swearing and yelling.
I nodded and looked to Abby. "That's Trent. We've gotta get back there."
Abby wasted no time with the receptionist. "Hi, ," she said, glancing down at the nameplate, "Gladys. We're looking for Trenton Maddox."
"Are you family?" Gladys asked with her nasally voice, unimpressed with the urgency in Abby's voice. Twin beaded chains hung from her oval glasses. Her thin lips pursed and wrinkled between responses. She'd probably worked around ten years more than what her empathy could survive, and didn't give two fucks that my brother was hurt or that Abby and I were worried about him.
"He's my brother," I said. "He was in an accident."
"Oh, the drunk driver," Gladys said.
Abby narrowed her eyes. "No. He was hit by a drunk driver."
"I know," Gladys said with a sigh. "He refuses to go to his own exam room."
"So Cami is hurt, too?" Abby asked. "How bad?"
"I can't give out any information. I'll let them know you're here. Have a seat."
I balled my hands into fists, but before I could lose my shit, Abby grabbed my arm and led me to a short row of chairs not yet filled with the sick or injured. I sat, not realizing that my knee was furiously bobbing until Abby pressed her palm down on my thigh. I propped my elbow on the armrest, and then pinched the bridge of my nose. The wait was agony. Trenton had already been in an accident with someone he cared about. Even though he'd survived, I thought it would kill him. If he survived this one, too, and Cami didn't ... I wasn't sure how he could come back from that.
"Travis?" Dad was standing in the doorway, the double doors standing wide open.
I jumped up and hurried across the room, pulling him in for a hug. "How is he? How's Cami?"
"Trenton is okay. He'll be hobblin' around for awhile. Broke his arm in two places. His ankle's swollen, but the X-Rays came back okay. I think he rolled it when he was running."
"Oh my God," Abby said, covering her mouth with her hand. "Running? From who? Why?"
"Let's go on in," Dad said, reaching for me. He hooked his arm around mine, and then I felt him lean on me. On the outside, he was keeping it together, but his hands were clammy, and his red-rimmed eyes were tired.
"You all right, Dad?"
"Me? Fine ... fine." He led us to Camille's exam room, but stopped just outside the door.
"What happened?" Abby whispered.
Dad rested a hand on his belly, his gaze falling to the floor. "Camille left work upset. Trenton jumped into the passenger seat. It was raining, and they were fighting. Never saw that little bastard run the stop sign. Her Jeep flipped four-and-a-half times. When Trenton came to, he pulled her out. When he couldn't get her to wake up, he picked her up and carried her over a mile to the nearest house."
"Christ," I breathed. "With a broken arm?"
"Chyeah, he did," he said, unable to hide his pride.
Dad put his hand on the door. "Camille's having a CAT scan. Trenton's with her. When they get back, they're going to," Dad choked, and then cleared his throat. "They're going to set his bones, and then cast his arm. They warned him that it's already started to heal and if he waited, it would be harder to set, but he won't leave her."
I squeezed him to my side."And Cami?"
Abby made a face.
Dad's brow furrowed. "She's still unconscious. She has a decent gash on her head and some swelling. The window shattered and cut 'em both pretty bad."
Abby hugged him, and he squeezed her tight. "It's okay, Dad. I bet they're both going to be good as new before long."
Dad smiled and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "Well that's good odds, then, eh?" He pushed open the door to an empty room. No bed or IV pumps, just the mess the ER staff left behind and two chairs. "Have a seat, sis. They should be back soon."
"What's the look for?" I asked Abby, noting the sour look on her face.
"Nothing," she snapped.
I stood behind her, gently pressing my thumbs into her neck, kneading her tense muscles in small circles. She let out a breath and relaxed.
"Baby," I said. "Tell me."
She glanced at Dad, who seemed to already know what she was about to say. "Trenton hasn't let a girl drive since Mackenzie. The first time he ... what she did was selfish. And Thomas," she caught herself. "Never mind."
"Yeah," I said, looking to Dad. "Tommy's flying in?"
Dad just nodded.
"What about the twins?"
"They were on standby. They're coming next week."
"Because he's going to be okay," I said, thinking allowed. My eyebrows pulled together as I continued to work on Abby's neck. "But Tommy didn't wait? That's not like him."
Dad didn't offer anything more.
A man with a shaved head and baby blue scrubs pushed through the door while pulling the end of a gurney. A woman pushed behind him with one hand, pulling Trenton's wheelchair with the other. My brother's eye lit up for half a second when he saw Abby and me, but then it extinguished.
I took over from the woman, her long, blonde ringlets glowed even in the dim room. Her badge read Christy, and beneath that, Radiographer.
"Thanks for the help, Christy," the man said.
"No problem, Julian. Want me to help with telemetry?" she asked. He shook his head. "Let me know if you need anything else."
Julian scowled at Trenton. "Only if he insists on tagging along again."
Christy breathed out a laugh as she headed for the door, her blue eyes sparkling when she turned to wave good-bye. "I think it's sweet."
Trenton's jaw muscles danced beneath his skin, but he kept his eyes forward, a permanent frown on his face. His right arm was propped on his lap, a white hospital blanket used as a makeshift splint. A large ice pack peeked out beneath the thick cotton.
I grabbed the handles of his wheelchair, moving him out of the way while Julian positioned Camille's bed, locking it into place.
Abby knelt in front of Trenton. "Hey," she said, looking him over. The white of his right eye was now red, and his face, neck, and arms were speckled with varying degrees of lacerations from the broken glass bouncing around in the Jeep.
I sat down in the chair, planting my elbows on my thighs.
Trenton looked away, his eyes glossing over.
Julian pressed the last button of her telemetry wires into an adhesive patch on Camille's chest, nodding to us as he quietly exited the room.
"Trent," I began.
"Not now," he choked.
"I know what you're thinkin'," I said, shaking my head.
"No, you don't."
I paused, trying to think of what words would help me if I were in the same position--if it were Abby lying in that bed instead of Camille. I thought about searching for her in the fire, and the sheer pain and fear that came with even the thought of losing her. There was nothing. Nothing could make me feel better in that situation but seeing Abby okay. I scanned Camille's face, a strange combination of serene, bloody, and pale. "You're right. I don't. This fucking sucks, and I'm sorry."
Trenton's eyes returned to mine. His bottom lip quivered. "I tried to stop her."
I gently cupped the back of his neck, leaning my forehead close to his. "We know. She knows."
A nurse slipped into the room. Deep, double dimples bordered her wide smile. She was chewing a wad of gum the same color as her bright scrubs. "Hi all," she whispered. "I'm Katie. I'll be setting Trenton's arm. I hear he doesn't want to go to the casting room, so Rosh will be in momentarily with equipment.
Trenton was unfazed.
"Shouldn't the uh ... the doctor set his arm?" I asked.
Katie slapped the X-rays on the viewer and flipped on the light.
Abby's face scrunched at the images, and I inwardly cringed.
Katie turned to us, her dirty-blonde hair bouncing. "I'm a PA ... and I'm all you've got. After Trenton's recent outburst, all the doctors offered me as sacrifice."
"Pussies," Trenton said with a huff.
A man with lime green scrubs pushed through the door, wheeling in equipment, a tray full of supplies, and a bowl of water.
"Hi, Rosh," Katie said, chipper even when whispering.
Rosh held up a roll of lime green casting tape. "I brought the best color we have."
"Thank you," Katie said. She lowered her chin. "Just waiting on the extra bed and the anesthesiologist."
Trenton shook his head. "No. I gotta be here when she wakes up."
Katie hesitated, then took a glimpse at each person in the room. "She has family here. And, you'll be here, just not here here."
Trenton sat up tall. "I can do it."
Empathy weighed down Katie's expression. "If you yell--"
"I won't make a fucking peep," Trenton said, meeting her gaze. "I swear."
Katie watched him for a moment, and then nodded. "I believe that. Okay, Rosh, let's do this." She washed her hands, dried them, and then put on a pair of blue gloves while Rosh sat a chair in front of Trenton, checking his wheelchair to make sure his locks were secure.
Trenton braced himself while Katie removed the blanket splint and ice pack. She palpated his arm, and then nodded to Rosh.
Abby held her breath, and Dad walked away a few steps.
"Here, Dad. Sit," I said.
He shook his head, waving me away.
Katie looked up at Trenton from under her brow. "Ready? We're going to start with your wrist first." He nodded, and Katie pressed and pulled, manipulating his wrist and hand.
Trenton's face turned red, and his jaws were taut. I grabbed his left hand, and he dug his fingers into my skin.
"Don't hold your breath," Katie said softly. "Don't want you passing out on me. Almost finished." Trenton breathed in through his nose. "That's right. Concentrate on your breathing. You're doing great."
She pressed and moved his hand around, and I sat with my brother, hoping to God he'd pass out. But, Trenton withstood the pain, determined to be awake and alert for Camille. Just when I thought he couldn't take another second, his arm straightened, and Katie signaled to Rosh.
"Okay, the worst is over," she said. She placed the material while holding his arm in place, and then Rosh wetted something else, and then began wrapping his arm.
"Beautiful," Rosh said, grinning as he wrapped the lime green tape around the cast.
"As soon as that monstrosity dries, I get first dibs to sign it," I said. "I already know what I'm gonna say."
"It's not a monstrosity," Katie said. "That's one beautiful cast."
Abby's stomach growled, and she looked to me, apologetic. "Anybody up for all-night fast food?" We all raised our hand, even Trenton.
As she left to grab dinner, I winked at her. She smiled, already knowing what I was thinking: I loved her for a million hundred reasons, but when she thought to take care of my family before we even asked--that was a moment when I wasn't sure I could love more. No one really spoke while Abby was gone, except for the occasional small talk and answers when hospital staff would come in. Abby was quick, returning within twenty minutes.
We ate our greasy burgers and fries in silence. Trent picked at his food, keeping a constant eye on his girlfriend as if he was going to will her better. It might sound strange to anyone else, but I got it. I would love Abby well if that's all I thought I could do.
After another hour and a few more tests, the staff informed us they'd be moving Camille upstairs.
"Why isn't she waking up?" Trenton asked.
The doctor took a breath and shook her head. "The brain is complicated. The swelling is going down, and her brain function is great, so that's good news. I think she'll wake up soon. We got her a room in four-fourteen. It's a corner suite. Really nice."
I gently patted Trenton's good shoulder for encouragement, and then we waited while they gathered Camille's monitoring devices and IV poles, and then unlocked her gurney in preparation for the trip upstairs.
We followed the nurses out, waving to Katie and Rosh as we passed the ER staff's station. When we reached the elevator, everyone immediately saw a problem. Camille's gurney and Trenton's wheelchair wouldn't fit in the same elevator.
"We'll see you up there," the nurse said, her strawberry blonde hair grazing her shoulders.
Trenton used his good hand to push up. I rushed to lock his wheels, and the nurse's eyes grew wide.
"Please don't!" she said.
Trenton hobbled into the elevator, steadying himself with the railing on the gurney. He nodded to me. "See you up top."
The elevator doors swept closed, and I waited three seconds before pushing the button again.
"You're still angry?" I asked.
"Yes. I'm sorry, but yes. I can't help but think she doesn't deserve all the fuss he's making over her," she said.
The other elevator opened, revealing an empty space. I guided Dad on, and Abby followed behind. She seemed embarrassed to be talking poorly about Camille around Dad.
"I understand, sis," Dad said. "It's an emotional day. Sometimes we have to blame someone to make sense of it all."
"I ..." Abby thought about arguing, but thought better of it. Dad was always right.
When the elevator opened, we stepped out to see Thomas standing at the fourth floor nurses' station.
"Tommy!" I said.
He flipped around, and came at me with open arms. "Have you heard anything?"
I shoved my hands in my pockets and shrugged. "Trenton's arm is broken in two places. Carried her over a mile to the closest house."
Thomas shook his head. "That's what the nurses said. Holy hell. He's been here one night and already a legend."
Abby shrugged with an innocent smile on her face. "It's so great that you came."
Thomas hugged his dad, and then nodded, his head swirling with thoughts. He glanced at all of us. "Can we go see them?"
"Yeah," Dad said. "They put her at the end of the hall ... four-fourteen."
Thomas was in a hurry to get to the room, and Abby shot me a glance just before he pushed through the door. Once he saw Camille, he froze, covering his mouth. His hand left his lips and ran over the top of his short dirty-blond hair. "You ... you okay, little brother?" he asked, his eyes never leaving Camille.
"I'll live," Trenton said.
Abby closed the door behind the nurses as they left, and we watched Thomas approach Camille's bed. He touched her fingers tenderly. Trenton watched her, too, confusion darkening his face.
"What the fuck are you doing, Tommy?" Trenton asked.
"I should have come sooner," he said, his face crumpling. "I'm sorry, Trent."
Trenton wrinkled his nose. "What are you talkin' about?"
"I ... didn't fly in. I've been sitting in my car waiting just long enough to make you believe that I was. It was fucking agony, and I'm so tired of ... I'm sorry," Thomas said again, this time to Camille.
"Tommy," I said, taking a step. "You all right, man?"
Thomas turned to face us, hesitating when he looked to Dad. "I've been in town. I came because of the fire, but then I stayed ..."
"Because of the fire?" Abby asked, lifting her chin. She studied Thomas the way she did cards in her hand. Her expression smoothed, as if she were relieved by a freeing truth. "Thomas James," she whispered.
I frowned, irritated that I hadn't caught on. But Trenton had. He paled. "No."
"Trenton," Thomas began.
"No!" Trenton said, louder than we'd been speaking for hours. His breath became labored, and then he struggled for every lungful of air. He looked at our oldest brother, hurt and disappointed. "Tommy! Tell me I'm wrong!"
Abby leaned in to whisper in my ear. "The guy from California Cami was dating ... T.J."
The wrinkles between my brows smoothed as recognition hit. "Oh, fuck."
Thomas stood in the middle of the room, guilty, ashamed, and more alone than I'd ever seen him. I walked over to him, and then paused, my gaze falling on Trenton. I didn't know what to do. We'd never experienced this before.
"It's okay," Trenton said finally. "It's okay, Tommy. I get it."
Thomas was overwhelmed with Trenton's forgiveness, barely able to say his next words. "But you loved her first."
"And she was your first love," Trenton said. He chuckled, an awkward way to discharge his discomfort. "She tried to warn me. I wouldn't listen."
"Because I made her lie to you. Don't make excuses for me, Trent."
Trenton raised his good arm and let it fall back to the arm of his wheelchair. "What do you want me to say, Tommy? You want me to hate you? Yell at you? Throw a punch? You're my brother. I love you no matter what. She loves you, too."
Thomas slowly shook his head. "Not like she loves you."
A small, appreciative smile touched Trenton's lips, and he looked at Camille. "I know."
"We're, uh ..." Abby said, waiting for me. I nodded, and she continued. "It's late," Abby said, hooking her arm around mine. "We're going to go home. We'll be back in the morning. Need us to do anything before we go?"
Trenton shook his head, and so did Dad.
"You need a ride, Dad?" I asked. He shook his head.
I hugged Thomas, Dad, and then carefully curled my arm around Trenton, waved good-bye, and then led my wife by the hand to the elevator. We didn't speak until we reached the car. I opened her door, jogged around to mine, and slid behind the wheel. My fingers curled around the top of the steering wheel, I puffed out a breath.
"Whoa," Abby said. She touched my shoulder. "You okay?"
"That was intense," I said. I backed out, and headed to the apartment. The clock in the dashboard read 3:47 a.m. Our headlamps were one of the only pairs lighting the backroads of Eakins. When I pulled into the apartment, Abby's phone buzzed.
She checked it, and then put it away, shifting in her seat.
"Was that Dad?" I asked. "Everything still okay?"
She swallowed, staring out the windshield at the stairs leading to our apartment. "If Trenton wasn't so forgiving, what we just saw could have ended much differently."
"True," I said, nodding.
She interlaced her fingers with mine. "Baby, I need to tell you something."
"Please don't tell me you're in love with Tommy."
She chuckled, but worry still flickered in her eyes. "Trav ... I love you. I love you so much, I do stupid things. That was ... that was Parker."
"Parker?" I seethed, already feeling my temper flare.
"Yes, but," she closed her eyes. "It was for you. I'm worried about you."
"What does that have to do with Parker?"
"Just ... hear me out," she said. I clenched my teeth, and nodded. She continued, "Remember the guys from the Red? The one you and Shep beat the shit out of? They were from the college paper. They're asking questions about you, Travis. The people who go to the Circle, they won't talk to the cops, but I'm afraid they'll ... what if those wanna-be reporters get someone to admit you were there?"
I waited a full minute to calm down before I spoke. "You," I began, feeling my heart trying to beat out of my chest. "You come to me about our shit, Abby." My face twisted. "You don't go to Parker fucking Hayes. He is the last person you should ...." I sighed, feeling my eye twitch. It had been a long night, and after dealing with my douchebag future boss and then Trenton's wreck, the last thing I wanted to hear from my wife was that she was talking to Parker.
Her eyes filled with tears. "I know. You're right. I don't know what the hell I was thinking. I was desperate, and he was there, and... he agreed to help me if I had coffee with him."
I closed my eyes. "Abby. Tell me you didn't."
Tears streamed down her face. Every muscle in my body tensed as I waited for her answer. She shook her head.
"I said yes," she said. "I told him I would, but I didn't go. I couldn't."
My neck gave way, and my head fell back. "Thank Christ!"
"I'm sorry," she cried.
I blinked a few times, realizing this was the first time she'd fucked up. She was the one in trouble for once. I sat up and frowned, trying my best to look stern. "It better not happen again, Pidge. I mean it."
She shook her head. "It won't."
"I can't believe you did that," I said, my voice thick with disappointment. Her bottom lip quivered, and she burst into tears. I couldn't take it anymore. "Baby, it's okay. I'm not that mad, Pigeon."
Her entire body shook as she sobbed. "I know you're disappointed. I'm disappointed in myself."
I cupped her cheeks in my hand, forcing her to look at me. "Don't you know?"
She sniffed, shaking her head.
"There is nothing you could ever do to make me think less of you, especially when you're acting out of desperation because you're worried about me. You think I don't know what's at stake if the Feds find out the truth? We're not in the clear, yet. How can I blame you for doing whatever it takes to keep me home?"
She turned, kissing my palm. "I was so stupid, Travis."
"You are many things, Pigeon, but never stupid." I leaned down to press my lips to hers, and she pulled me closer. I could feel her hot tears smear on my cheeks, her soft tongue caressing mine. For the first time, I realized Parker was a pointless source of contention. He was no more a threat than her ex, Jesse. She felt the same for me as I did her, and that kind of crazy love led to irrational behavior at best.
I was going to ignore that Parker tried to take advantage ... for now.
Abby leaned forward toward my seat, and then crawled onto the console. She leaned back, pulling me with her, letting her weight, and then mine help us fall to the backseat. She yanked my shirt over my head, and then did the same with her own.
"Here?" I asked. I hadn't had sex in the back of a car since high school.
"Here," she said. "Now."