A numb void filled me, as if my own brain decided to take a little break too. I studied everyone else in the waiting room—Oren’s parents clutching each other, Zoey sobbing against Quinn’s shoulder as he softly rubbed her abdomen and kissed her hair, Reese and Eva holding hands and looking pale while their men flanked them on either sides, Asher with his hands shoved deep in his pockets and his head bowed as he kicked at a piece of his other shoe, and Noel...Noel looking as if he might start bawling all over again—and I just watched them, feeling sad for them, while inside I was just too...too scared to feel anything at all.
But then Noel grabbed me and hauled me into his arms, and that first painful bite of fear sank its teeth into my jugular. I went cold and started to shake.
“You said medically induced,” Phil repeated as he stroked his wife’s arm and nodded to the doctor.
When Dr. Wolfowitz confirmed it, Phil asked, “So that means you’ll bring him out of it too? How...how long will he be under?”
“It depends. We’ll lighten the barbiturates as soon as the swelling begins to recede. If the level of function is good, we’ll bring him out completely.”
I shook my head, unable to believe most of this. Oren-not-functioning just wasn’t something I could configure in my thought process. He was always on the go, never stayed still, never really stopped talking. He always had a comeback for everything, always had some kind of reaction. Picturing him lying still and unconscious—reactionless—in a sterile white hospital bed just didn’t fit with the man I’d fallen in love with and married.
But then I didn’t have to picture it in my head any longer. Two hours later, I got to see it for myself. Visitors were finally allowed into his intensive care unit, two at a time and only for ten-minute spans once an hour, but none of us waiting to see him cared about a few rules. We were willing to do anything—wait any length—for even the smallest amount of time with Oren.
The nurse looked to me when she came out to allow the first two people in, but I stepped back and motioned toward his parents, letting them go first. I swear, they went over their time allotment, though. Every freaking second felt like a millennium. When they exited, both their faces were wet and they looked ten years older than when they had gone back. Brenda met my gaze briefly, then quickly looked away again.
I turned to Noel for support. He took my hand and gave me a bolstering nod. “Just one more hour.”
I nodded back because I couldn’t speak. When our time finally came, my fingers squeezed around my brother’s arm as fear squeezed around my heart. I hated the sight of blood and gore, and seeing Oren damaged because of what he’d done to save me made it all that much more distressing.
He was in a coma with permanent scarring, a swollen brain, and broken bones because of me.
But then there he was, and I forgot about all that. I was finally able to see my precious, precious man. With a gasp, I let go of Noel and raced forward. A cast covered his elevated leg, and they’d put one arm in a sling while half his head was wrapped in bandages. A tube fed into his mouth, giving him oxygen while IVs and heart monitors led various other hoses into him as well. The part of his face we could see was fairly swollen, but I could still tell it was him.
I touched his fingers reverently, careful not to disturb some of the gadgets connected to the back of his hand. Then I crouched beside him so I could speak into his ear.
“Hey there, handsome. I’m sorry it took so long to get to you. I didn’t think they’d ever let me back here. I was about to pull one of my acting tricks and have a major diva fit to trick my way to your side, but they finally complied.”
I grinned, remembering the scene we’d created on the airplane. But the smile fell when Oren gave no response; his heart monitor just kept beeping out a steady rhythm, and the cuffs around his ankles kept releasing pressure with a puff of air.
“I’m very upset with you, you know.” I kept my voice light as I scolded, I even reached out to gently run my nails over his scruff, but I continued to scold. “You weren’t supposed to let go of my hand like that. I mean, if you jump, I jump, right, Jack? You were supposed to listen to that part.”
But he didn’t respond to the Titanic quote either. A sob escaped me. Noel’s hands wrapped around my shoulders and squeezed supportively.
“I was supposed to go with you, wherever you went. We’re a team. You told me once that I had to have a place. Well, I finally figured out where it is. It’s with you. Do you really want to leave me alone, without a place? Damn it, you can’t abandon me here to live this life by myself. I’m a complete freaking mess without you. I...” My voice broke, and I shook my head. “I love you, Oren. I just...I want you back.”