Hometown Hearts by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2018-2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
We tried to get her to let us call 911, but she insisted she didn’t want that. She wanted us to drive her to the hospital in Granby and there was no arguing with her.
“I’m bleeding. But it’s not like last time. It’s Christmas Day. I can’t reach my OB’s office, but if I could, she’d tell me to go to the emergency room. I don’t want a lot of fuss, so please. Just…just drive me there.”
We got her out to Jay’s truck and situated in the backseat. I sat next to her, my arm around her.
She was shaking. Hell, so was I.
Please, please let everything be fine, I found myself silently chanting.
“I have to call Kevin,” she said.
“Do you want me to?”
“No. I’ll do it. He…he needs to hear my voice so he knows I’m okay.”
I hated to tell her, but the sound of her voice was a dead giveaway she was not, in any way, okay.
“I have to find my phone.” She started digging through her purse.
“Here, use mine.” It was dark in the truck, so my facial recognition wasn’t working, but I typed in my passcode and handed the phone to her.
As she took it and pressed in Kevin’s number, I met Jay’s gaze in the rearview mirror. He looked as shaken as I felt.
Maddy’s conversation with Kevin wasn’t a pleasant one to overhear. I could tell he was scared shitless without even having to hear his side of it.
“It’s going to be okay,” Maddy kept saying. “It’s going to be okay.”
I was pretty sure she was saying it just as much to convince herself as Kevin.
Eventually she handed the phone to me. “He wants to talk to you.”
“Hunter, don’t leave her side.”
“I won’t. Jay and I are right here with her. We won’t leave her.”
“Not even at the hospital. Don’t let them take her anywhere or do anything without you being with her. Don’t leave her alone.”
“Okay. I’m…um…I’m at the intersection of 14 and 40, north of Kremmling. About as far away as I could be in the county, tonight of all nights. And it’s snowing again, damn it. But I’m on my way.”
“Drive safely,” I told him.
“You guys, too. You have precious cargo.”
“I love her so damn much.”
“She knows that.”
“Call me if anything changes. Anything at all.”
“I will. I promise.”
When I’d hung up, Maddy grabbed hold of my hand. I wrapped my fingers around hers and gently squeezed.
“He’s completely freaked. But it’s going to be okay,” she said softly. She was still shaking, but her voice had taken on a resolute tone. “I know it is. I told you, I was sure this time was different, and it is, damn it.” She had her free hand resting protectively on her belly. “You believe me, don’t you?” She looked at me expectantly.
“I believe you.”
“Good. And you, too, Jay.”
“I believe you,” he said quietly from the front seat.
“Okay. No negative energy in here, you hear me? Only positive.”
“Only positive,” I echoed.
Even though we arrived at the hospital in only twenty-five minutes, despite the snow, and thanks to Jay’s steady hand on the wheel, it felt like it took forever.
The hospital in Granby was small but usually well staffed, and once Maddy told them what was happening, they took her right on through the double doors. I started to follow her, but Jay hung back.
“You go,” he said. “I’ll stay out here and call your parents. They’ll want to know, won’t they?”
“They will. Thank you.” I could tell he was upset, and I knew, or at least suspected why. He cared about Maddy, of course. But he was probably also remembering the after-Christmas trip to the emergency room with his grandpa only a year ago, which had ended in tragic news. “You doing okay?”
He smiled, albeit wanly, and nodded. I could tell just from his expression that he appreciated me asking. “I’ll be all right,” he said quietly. “Go, be with Maddy, and I’ll call your mom and dad, then wait here for Kevin.”
We quickly squeezed fingers before we parted.
They did the usual processing—blood pressure, temperature, etc.—then Maddy and I waited anxiously for someone to come do an ultrasound. She was gowned and half-reclined in a bed, and I sat in a hard gray plastic chair next to her, holding her hand.
“It’s going to be okay,” she said again for probably the thousandth time.
“Is Jay all right?”
“He’s fine.” I didn’t want her worrying about anyone but herself.
“He is not. Tell me the truth.”
“Tell me. It keeps my mind off things.”
I knew she wouldn’t let it go, so I gave in.
“I suspect he’s remembering having to be in the emergency room with Grandpa Fred last year after Christmas.”
“Ohhh. I never knew exactly what happened. Only that Mr. Marshall died quickly from cancer.”
“It wasn’t all that quick. He’d known for a couple of months but didn’t tell anyone, not even Jay. Then the day after Christmas, he collapsed. Jay called 911 and they rushed him to the hospital. That’s when Jay found out about the cancer and the fact his grandpa was dying. A few days later, Grandpa Fred was gone.”
“That’s horrible. No wonder Jay looked so haunted out there. You should go check on him, Hunter.”
“Nope. I’m not leaving you.”
“Because Kevin made you promise?”
“Because I love you and I wouldn’t have left you even if Kevin had said nothing.”
“I love you, too.” She got a little teary. “I know its selfish of me, but I hope you move back here. I’ve really, really missed you and I like having you here.”
My own voice was choked when I responded. “I’ve really missed you, too. I’ve missed everyone.
“Especially Jay,” she teased with a smile, in spite of her damp eyes.
“Everyone,” I reiterated. “All of you.”
Kevin arrived then, coming through the door into the small room in full uniform, looking equal parts fierce and on the verge of throwing up. I moved back out of the way so he could get to Maddy. He leaned down at the same time she leaned up, and he swallowed her in an embrace.
“It’s going to be okay,” I heard her saying again.
The ultrasound tech showed up at the door with his machine and there simply wasn’t room for it and Kevin and me.
“I’m going to get out of the way,” I said, squeezing Maddy’s foot through the sheet and blanket that covered her. I patted Kevin on the back. “I’ll be out in the waiting room with Jay.”
“I love you, Hunter,” Maddy said again.
“Love you, too. And you, bro.”
Kevin looked at me with stark, fear-filled eyes and nodded. “You, too,” he whispered.
“I’ll be right down the hall. Text me if you need me for anything.”
When I got out to the waiting room, Jay wasn’t sitting, he was pacing. And I could practically see and feel his tension from where I stood.
“Hey,” I said, coming up behind him and resting my hand lightly on his back.
He turned and I could tell he wanted to reach for me. But he didn’t. It was one of the shittier parts about being gay or bi or any other sexuality besides hetero in our society—that nagging fear of showing honest affection in public. There were a handful of other people in the waiting room and God forbid someone might be offended. But I damn well wasn’t going to let anyone stop me from offering comfort to the man I loved. Not tonight. I pulled Jay into a hug. And he hugged me back with what sounded like a sigh of relief.
When we let go of one another, we sank into a pair of chairs in an empty section of the waiting room..
“How’s Maddy? Do we know anything yet?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Not yet. The ultrasound tech had just come in when I left. It was crowded and there wasn’t room for all of us. Plus, I figured Maddy and Kevin would want some privacy, depending on the news.”
“I gathered from what I overhead at the check-in desk, and what Maddy said earlier, that she’s had a miscarriage before?”
“Two of them.”
He winced. “No wonder she and Kevin both looked so damned scared.”
“Yeah. And the last one, a year ago, she hemorrhaged. She was home alone, but managed to call for help before she passed out.”
“She’s still insisting everything’s going to be fine.”
“I hope it is.”
“So do I. Did you get a hold of Mom and Dad?”
“I talked to your mom.”
“How’d she handle the news.”
“She was calm, but obviously worried. She said they wouldn’t come here to the hospital since you and I were here for Maddy and Kevin. I told her we’d keep her updated.”
“Thank you for doing that.”
“I feel like I don’t have much to offer in this situation, so I’m happy to help in small ways.”
“You’re helping in a big way right now. But how’re you holding up? I know this can’t be easy for you, after last Christmas.”
He dragged in and released a slow breath. “I’d be lying if I said hospitals don’t give me a cold empty feeling. But I’ll be okay.”
“Were you here in Granby with your grandpa?”
“No, they flew him to Denver, given his age and cancer diagnosis.”
“Did you ride with them or drive?”
“I drove. And it was a damned long drive.”
“Especially by yourself.” I shook my head, my heart hurting for him once again. “With far too much time to think and worry. God, I hate that—”
“I know what you’re about to say, Hunt, and you don’t need to. I know you wish you could have been here for me. But you’re here now, and that means more than you could ever know.”
I swallowed hard and nodded. I couldn’t turn back time. I knew that. But I was damn well going to be here for him from now on. And for Maddy and Kevin, as well as my parents.
While we waited, I got a text from Emma. I’d tried to call her yesterday afternoon, to wish them a Merry Christmas, but she hadn’t answered her phone, so I’d left a message.
Merry Christmas, Hunter! Sorry I missed your call yesterday. You sounded good in your message. Happy. And that makes me happy. It’s getting late here, but call me if you want to talk tomorrow or the next day. And say hi to sexy-voice Jay for me. You didn’t mention him in your message, but I’m dying to know if you’ll be having any more platonic dinners with him.
I huffed out a half laugh and shook my head.
“What?” Jay asked.
“Emma.” I showed him the text and he smiled.
“Good God. I’d forgotten she called me that. And what’s this about platonic dinners?”
I told him the conversation I’d had with Emma when I’d last spoken to her, the afternoon before I’d gone to his house for dinner.
“Something tells me she’s not going to be surprised when you give her the scoop.”
“Apparently a lot of people haven’t been surprised by it…except the two of us. How’d we manage that?”
Jay shook his head. “I’ve wondered the same thing. And damned if I know.”
An hour passed, then an hour and a half. No text from Kevin, no contact. I knew these things could take a while. Just because the tech had come to do the ultrasound didn’t mean Maddy and Kevin would know anything yet. The tech might not be allowed to tell them anything and they’d have to wait for a doctor to review the results and then come see Maddy. Or maybe they’d needed to run additional tests of some kind.
I could go back there again to find out, but I still felt like they needed some space and privacy to deal with whatever the news might be. Kevin would text me when he was ready to.
Please let everything be fine. Please.
At least I had Jay’s company, which, honestly, probably kept me from going batshit with worry. But thinking that, of course, only reminded me that Jay had been by himself with his grandpa at the hospital, and then I felt awful again about that even though I knew he didn’t want me to feel that way.
I suspected my brain had decided my anxious state was the perfect time to be an asshole and upload any and all things that had been bothering me of late so they could play endlessly through my mind. Because, in addition to my worry about Maddy, Kevin, and their baby, and my guilt and sadness about Jay and Grandpa Fred, Shane kept popping into my head, too. Well, not him specifically so much as how much I didn’t want to leave here, especially if things went bad for Maddy and Kevin, and then how much work I was going to have to wade through when I did get back to New York, including having to interact with Shane, which was going to be hell.
Once again all of it just seemed too damned overwhelming. My chest tightened, and my heart began to pound.
Damn it. I was supposed to be the calm one in my family. The levelheaded one. The one who could mediate, soothe other people’s anger and worries. That ability had always been useful in law as well. But tonight, apparently, it had deserted me.
I drew in a breath and released it as I looked at Jay, suddenly realizing he was watching me with concern. “Sorry.”
“Come on,” he said, standing. “I don’t think there’s anyplace to get coffee, but there are some vending machines down the hall. Let’s go find something.”
I gave him a grateful look. As usual, he’d read me like he lived inside my head and heart. Which, come to think of it, he did. In my heart anyway. And his soothing personality knew exactly when and how to get me out of my head.
“It’d probably be good to take a walk,” I said.
“Yep. And if you’re really good, I’ll buy you a Coke and some M&Ms.”
That made me smile. It was a stupid, old, old thing from back in high school. He and I used to have a challenge for every baseball game we played. Whoever hit the most balls at bat, the other had to buy him a Coke and some M&Ms afterward.
“You won way more than I did,” I told him. “I remember having to buy you a hell of a lot of Cokes and candy.”
“I don’t think so. My memory is that we were pretty damn even. I think I bought for you just as often as you bought for me. We were well matched.”
“Still are,” I said, brushing my fingertips against his as we walked side-by-side.
We stopped in front of the vending machines. “Yeah. We are,” he said softly, smiling.
The machine didn’t take a card, only cash, so Jay fished several dollar bills out of his wallet and fed them into the machines. There was only one package of peanut M&Ms left, so we shared it.
As we were walking back to the waiting room, my phone vibrated.
I stopped. With a stuttered breath I reached into my pocket and pulled it out. It was Kevin.
Can you come back here please?
I must have said that out loud, because, with a worried look on his face, Jay tilted my phone in my hand so he could read the text, too.
“It doesn’t mean it’s bad news,” he soothed. “It might be good. Go. I’ll be right here if you need me.”
I nodded, feeling more than a little numb. I handed him my bottle of Coke and my coat I’d been holding, and sent a quick text to Kevin.
On my way.
Then I turned toward the double doors that led back into the maze of the emergency department.
Please, please let everything be fine. Please.
My hands were sweaty by the time I reached the room, and my heart had firmly lodged in my throat, expecting… I didn’t know. I was trying to be prepared for anything.
I rounded the corner and looked through the doorway. The door stood open halfway and I could see Kevin sitting on the bed with Maddy, his back to me. He was holding Maddy. I couldn’t see her face, but the position they were in, him comforting her…
Fighting back the sting of tears and the ache in my heart, I gently rapped on the door.
“Come in,” Kevin called.
He turned to look at me as I did. He’d been crying and my heart bottomed out.
But then Maddy lifted her head and looked at me. Her eyes widened. “Oh God, Hunter, no, it’s okay. I’m sorry we scared you. It’s not bad news. It’s okay.”
“Wh-at?” I said slowly.
Kevin wiped at his eyes, then smiled. “Everything’s all right.”
Maddy was smiling in spite of her own red eyes. She held out a hand to me. “The baby’s fine. We were just happy and relieved.”
“And you? How’re you?” I asked as I instinctively moved toward her, taking her hand.
“I’m all right. I’m great, in fact.”
“Oh my God, you guys.” My heart was still pounding way too fast, but I felt like I could finally breathe again. I leaned down to hug Maddy, then rested a hand on Kevin’s shoulder and squeezed. “Everything’s really okay?”
“For real. The baby’s healthy and everything looks good and normal.”
“They said the bleeding wasn’t anything problematic,” Maddy said. “Just some spotting, which can happen sometimes. In this case, it might have been caused because earlier today—”
“Mad! You don’t need to tell him that part.” Kevin looked slightly horrified.
“Why not? He’s your brother, and I don’t care if he knows.”
“If I know what?” I was still more than a little weak-kneed from the build up of anxiety, so whatever it was, I’d rather know all the facts now before anything else could shake me off balance.
A flush actually pinked Maddy’s cheeks, but she was grinning. “Before Kevin left your parents’ house this afternoon to go to work, when we went upstairs to get our stuff? We kinda…”
“For God’s sake, I cannot believe you’re going to say it,” Kevin mumbled, looking away and shaking his head.
“We had a quickie,” Maddy finished.
At that point I was sure my brows had shot up.
“Oh my God,” Kevin said through gritted teeth.
“Um…” I stumbled for a second, fighting a smile and trying to find appropriate words because, really, how did you respond to that? “Well, um…was it…good?”
“Jesus Fucking Christ,” Kevin said, standing and running a hand through his short hair.
Maddy giggled. “Actually, yes. Yes it was. Quite good.”
I snickered, but it quickly became a full-out laugh. Maybe it was stress relief. Or maybe it was watching my brother squirm. Either way, I couldn’t stop myself. Maddy laughed harder, too.
Finally, Kevin turned toward us, his face the color of one of the red M&Ms I’d just eaten with Jay, but he was smiling. “You’re an ass,” he said to me.
“And you’re gonna be a dad,” I said back to him, which came out completely randomly, but somehow it made Kevin smile even more widely.
“Yeah. Yeah, I am.”
“I’m so happy for you guys. And so relieved.”
“Us, too. Believe me,” Maddy said. “But I told you…I told both of you…that everything was going to be fine.”
I squeezed her hand which I was still holding. “You were right.”
“Hunter, text Jay and tell him to come back here. Please? I want to see him. I know he doesn’t like hospitals, but maybe if he comes to see me I can help him remember that sometimes trips to the hospital can end happily.”
I smiled. “Okay.”
“And Kevin, text or call your mom, please, so your parents don’t worry.”
“Jay called them earlier, when we first got here, and talked to Mom, but I know she’ll be glad for the update and good news,” I said as I pulled my phone back out.
I sent Jay a quick text, telling him everything was all right and that Maddy was asking to see him. As I did, I saw Kevin typing on his phone also, presumably touching base with Mom and Dad.
When Jay appeared in the doorway a couple of minutes later, he definitely looked less strained than he had all night.
“Come see me, Jay!” Maddy called holding out her arms.
Jay smiled and went to her.
While he did, Kevin said to me, “Step out in the hall with me for a minute?”
I followed him, and when we were to the side of the doorway, he shocked me completely by tugging me into a hug. A real hug. I hugged him back for several seconds before he pulled away. “I just wanted to thank you. For what you did tonight. You and Jay. Getting Maddy to the hospital. Staying with her. Once again I wasn’t with her when she needed me…”
He held up a hand. “I know. I can’t always be with her. But the fact she was with you when this scare happened, and that you took care of her when I couldn’t…that means everything to me, Hunter.”
“You’re my brother. I love you and Maddy. I’d do anything for you guys.”
Kevin took a hard swallow, his eyes growing distinctly damp again. Then he nodded. “I’m sorry I’ve been such an ass to you.”
“I wasn’t here for you when I should have been. You had every reason to be angry at me.”
“Yeah, well, I haven’t exactly been there for you either. Whatever happened with you and Shane…it obviously hurt you a lot. You’ve had your own shit to deal with and I haven’t been understanding or supportive at all. I was too pissed at you for my own made-up selfish reasons and I shouldn’t have been. This brother thing goes both ways. And I promise I’ll do a better job from here on out, for whenever you need me.”
Damn it, now I was getting choked up, too. “Thank you,” I murmured.
He shrugged. “It’s been nice having you around again.”
“It’s been nice being around again.”
I heard Maddy laughing, followed by Jay’s soft rumbly laugh, which caused Kevin and me to both look toward the doorway. The expression on Kevin’s face was distinctly starstruck, making me smile. He and Maddy had been together since he was eighteen and she was sixteen. Good to know they were still as in love with each other all these years later.
“Go be with your wife,” I said.
He huffed out a half-chuckle. “And you go be with your dude, who, by the way, is sooo much a better fit for you.”
“Preachin’ to the choir,” I told him.
“You wanna know something else cool?” Maddy asked, when we were back in the room. “I’m gonna tell them, okay?” she said to Kevin.
“Since you seem to think it’s fine to talk to Hunter about our sex life,” Kevin said, shaking his head in disbelief, “he and Jay might as well know everything else, too.”
Jay shot me a questioning look, but I gave him a subtle head shake and smiled.
“What’s up?” I asked, moving to stand next to Jay. He’d put our coats in the only chair in the room, and Kevin had gone back to sitting on the bed with Maddy, leaving standing room only for us. I felt a warm flutter of pleasure when Jay’s arm slid around my shoulders.
“Well…” she said dramatically, a huge grin on her face, “when they did the ultrasound, they saw the sex of the baby.”
“Did you have them tell you?” I asked.
“I thought about not, about letting it be a surprise. Kevin said he was okay with that if I wanted it. But, well, you know me…I can’t even resist poking and shaking Christmas presents. My curiosity always gets the best of me.”
I chuckled because that was so true. We’d caught her just last night sitting on the floor next to the tree, fondling presents. And she’d confessed to me once that about halfway through any book she was reading, she’d skip to the end to find out what happened, then go back to where she left off and finish the story. She was all about the spoilers.
“And…” Her hand slid into Kevin’s. “We’re having a girl!”
“Congrats!” Jay told them.
“That’s awesome,” I said. “And if she’s anything like her mom, she’s going to be one fierce, stubborn, kindhearted woman.”
“Aww.” Maddy smiled. Then she looked at Kevin. “Are you going to be able to handle two of us?”
“Are you going to be able to handle me being an overprotective dad?” he countered.
“I can just see it now, when she’s old enough to date…” I shook my head. “Kevin will be in full uniform, standing in the doorway, giving her potential dates hell and interrogating them to be sure they’re worthy.”
“He’ll be in deep shit with me if he does that,” Maddy sassed. “And he knows it.”
“I would never do something like that,” he said.
We all snickered.
“Ye of little faith,” he grumbled, but he was smiling.
“So,” I said, “I guess this means the name Thunderbolt is officially off the table?”
Maddy had been taking a sip of water from a cup. She half snorted it out, then started giggling. Next to me, Jay chuckled.
Kevin’s eyebrows shot up as he looked at us, then he turned his gaze on Maddy. “You did NOT tell them about that?”
“Oh, I totally did,” she said with a grin. “But don’t worry, honey, you’re going to get a chance to use that name after all.”
“Did I forget to tell you that we’re not only going to be human parents, we’re going to be doggie parents, too? I met the sweetest Rottweiler today at the shelter, and I want to adopt him. You’re going to love him as much as I do. In honor of you, I think we should name him Thunderbolt Maximus Breckman. We’ll call him ‘Thundy’ for short.” She winked at me and Jay.
Kevin’s mouth was agape. “You want to—? Thun—? What? What?”