Hometown Hearts by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2018-2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
For a moment everything around me blurred. The woman kept talking, but the old knot in my gut had returned full-force and, between the pain and my heart thudding so hard, I didn’t hear any of it.
Jay reached for me, resting a hand on my leg. “What is it?”
I did hear him. Somehow. And, as I looked at him, I expelled a breath I hadn’t even realized I’d been holding. The woman’s words began to register in my head again, but I was lost because I hadn’t caught the rest of it.
“Um, sorry,” I said, my voice hoarse. “Could you repeat that?”
“Of course. You’re listed as Mr. Harris’s emergency contact, but may I confirm your relationship to him? Are you a family member?”
“No, he’s…he’s my partner.”
“Okay. Do you know if Mr. Harris has given anyone medical power of attorney for him?”
“Is it an actual signed form?”
“It is. We’re both attorneys.”
“Excellent. I assume you have a copy of it that you could send us?”
“Um…I can get one, yeah. Sorry, but could you please let me know what happened and what’s going on?”
“As I said, Mr. Harris was in an accident tonight and he’s in critical condition. I can’t give you specific details because I’m not party to them at this time. But as you’re Mr. Harris’s medical proxy I can put you through to the emergency department and they should be able to give you more information. Since he is currently unable to make decisions, if you could scan and either email or fax me a copy of his MPOA as soon as possible that would be helpful.”
“I’m out of state right now. I don’t have the hard copy of it. I…” My brain was still mush but I tried to think where I could access it. “I should be able to get a digital copy of it.”
“That would be fine. Let me give you my email address and fax number.”
“Could you text or email those numbers to me?”
“Certainly. What is your email address?”
I rattled of my business email.
“All right, I’ll send you the information as soon as we finish this call. Also, if you have a copy of Mr. Harris’s medical insurance card or can at least tell me his carrier that would be helpful.”
I gave her Shane’s and my insurance carrier.
“Thank you. Let me transfer you to the emergency department now.”
I spoke to a nurse there. And by the time I got off the phone I was shaking.
Jay took my phone out of my hands and set it aside, then wrapped his hands around mine. “I picked up some things from your side of the conversation, but tell me what’s happened.”
“Shane was in a car accident. They’re taking him to surgery as soon as an operating room opens up. I…” I pushed aside the covers and slid out of bed. “I have to go there.”
“It’s the middle of the night.”
“I know, but…” I pulled on a pair of sweats and a tee. “I’ve gotta find a flight out as soon as possible.”
I left the bedroom in a fog and headed downstairs to the kitchen. I’d left my laptop on the table. I heard Jay moving around upstairs, but all I could think about was getting to my computer.
The dogs whined from their crates when they saw me sit at the table. I murmured softly to them to quiet them.
By the time I had my laptop open, Jay had dressed and come downstairs. He let the dogs out of their crates and loved on them for a moment, then took them outside. When they returned, he moved to stand behind me, a hand on my shoulder. I could feel the cold of it, from being outside, seep through my shirt.
“Looks like I can get out of Denver on a 5:00 A.M. flight. It’s nonstop and’ll get me into JFK around 11:00 a.m. That’s…eleven hours from now. Shit. Too long.”
“God, I’ve also got to find a copy of his MPOA and send it to the hospital.” I started to open a new tab to look in the secure cloud we had for the law firm. I was pretty sure we’d have a copy of the medical power of attorney there. But then I realized I should probably get the flight thing taken care of first, so I toggled back to the airline website.
“Hunt?” Jay sank into the chair next to me and put a hand on my arm. “Hunter, look at me. Please?”
I lifted my gaze from the blur of my laptop screen to meet his concerned one.
“Sweetheart, take a breath. And then tell me what’s going on. What’s happened to Shane?”
Newt pawed at my leg. I picked him up and absently buried my face in his fur for a few seconds, then rubbed his ears. Ripley pushed up against me, begging for her own attention. I petted her, too. “He was in a car accident.”
“I know. You told me that much already.”
“I don’t know much more yet, not about the accident itself. He was unconscious when they got him to the hospital. The nurse said he has several fractures, including broken ribs, a collapsed lung, but he’s got other internal injuries. I don’t think they really know the extent of them yet. They have to get him to surgery to find out because he’s…he’s bleeding inside. It’s…it’s bad.”
“Okay. What is it that the hospital needs from you?”
“I have to get there as soon as possible.”
The word, that single word out of his mouth, shocked me. I stared at him. “What do you mean why?”
“Why do you need to rush to his side?”
“Because he’s just been in a horrible car accident!”
“I know. And you’re right, it is horrible. I don’t like the guy, but I would never wish something like this on him or anyone. That doesn’t change the fact he’s treated you like total shit, Hunter. He’s used you, cheated on you. You’ve told me over and over you hate him and you’re done with him. So why would you feel compelled to fly across the country in the middle of the night to be at his bedside?”
“I…” I shook my head. “I can’t believe you’re even saying any of this. He has been a dick, obviously. But this…this is different. He’s lying in the hospital. I told you, it’s bad. There’s a possibility he might not make it. If I look the other way and he dies, I’d never be able to live with myself. I can’t just ignore this.”
He frowned and I could tell he was upset. “I’m not saying you should ignore it.”
“It sounds like that’s exactly what you’re saying.”
“I’m not. I’m only thinking of you. I don’t want you to feel obligated to him.”
“I am obligated. I have to go, Jay. I have Shane’s medical power of attorney. Right now, he’s incapable of making decisions about his medical care, and because of that legal document, I’m the only one who can make those decisions.”
“You could do that by phone.”
“Why are you being this way? I need to be there in person. And if… God, if he doesn’t make it…I…”
The knot in my gut clenched so tight I thought I might throw up. I clutched at my stomach and winced.
For some reason, when he saw that, Jay’s hand slipped off my arm and he dragged in a shaking breath. “I’ll…get you some water,” he said softly. He rose, took a glass out of the cupboard, filled it at the sink, then set it next to me on the table.
“Thank you,” I murmured. I’d gone back to looking at the airline website. “There’s a red-eye leaving Denver at 1:35.”
I glanced at the clock on my computer. 12:11.
“Damn it.” There was no way. It was a two-hour drive to the Denver airport from here, if the weather was decent. Tonight, it wasn’t so great.
I ended up adding the 5:00 A.M. flight to the itinerary.
Jay hadn’t sat back down. I felt him standing behind me again, but without touching me this time.
“It’s late and it’s snowing, Hunt. Can you not at least wait and catch a flight midmorning so you don’t have to make the drive to Denver in the dark in such crappy weather?”
“I can’t. I think it’s important I’m there as soon as possible after he’s out of surgery. If…” I swallowed hard. “If he makes it out.”
“Okay,” he said in the same quiet voice as before. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“No. I don’t think so. But thank you.”
I set Newt down on the floor while I made the airline reservation and paid.
Jay had disappeared. I glanced over my shoulder and saw he’d gone to the living room. He was sitting on the couch—I could see the back of his head—and I heard him murmuring to the dogs, who were probably snuggling with him. For a moment I was jealous and wanted to be there with the three of them.
But I had to get this done.
I turned back to my computer so I could find Shane’s MPOA and get it sent to the hospital.
The knot in my gut was still clenching like a motherfucker, and I kept sipping at the water Jay had brought me, trying to fight off the urge to be sick. My hands, I realized, were shaking as I typed.
When I’d finished, I went upstairs, dressed properly, and threw a few things into my computer bag alongside my laptop. I didn’t need to take much since I could always go to the apartment for more clothes.
When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I took one look at Jay, still on the couch with the dogs, looking lonely as hell, and a sudden, piercing ache grabbed at my chest, different from the one in my gut.
I set my bag down and went to him, sitting on the coffee table facing him.
I don’t know why I hadn’t recognized it before, but I now realized that quiet voice he’d been using was because he was hurt. And the pained look in his eyes confirmed it.
I wound my fingers through his. “Come with me,” I said spontaneously.
“Come to New York with me.”
His brows rose, so I knew I’d surprised him. But just as quickly they drew together. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Because something tells me you showing up at the hospital for Shane with some other guy in tow isn’t exactly cool.”
“You’re not some other guy, Jay. I love you.”
“Yeah, well, it would feel wrong to me. Besides, it’s the middle of the night. What would we do with the dogs? We just brought them home. We can’t both go off and leave them so soon. They’d feel abandoned.”
Something in his tone made me wonder if he thought I was abandoning him. Which made me even sicker to my stomach.
“I’ll be back soon.”
A soft huff of breath escaped him. It wasn’t quite a sigh, wasn’t quite frustration. I couldn’t label it. I only knew it caused another twinge in my already miserable gut.
“Do you not believe me?”
“I believe you believe it. But I think logic dictates otherwise.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re still going to have all your cases on your plate that you’ve been worried about finishing. But now, in addition to that, if Shane’s out of commission for a while, or if he doesn’t pull—”
He caught himself, but I knew what he’d been about to say and I winced.
“My point is,” he continued, “you’re going to have twice as much work to do. All of which is going to have to be done there.”
I rubbed my eyes. He wasn’t wrong. I’d already thought of those things. This happening to Shane had made everything a thousand times more complicated. The knot in my gut agreed, wrenching viciously.
“I know. And that’s another reason I need to be there. If things…if they go bad, the full weight of the firm is going to fall on my shoulders and, the cases we have in progress aside, we have a dozen employees who’re going to be concerned about whether they’ll still have jobs or not. I need to be there to assure them and provide stability. Please, tell me you understand.”
“I do,” he said in that same quiet voice.
“It doesn’t mean I’m going to be gone forever, though. It might take a little longer now, but this is where I want to be. Here. With you. With these sweet fur balls.” I ran a hand over Ripley and Newt.
I saw Jay take a hard swallow.
“I hate this. So much,” I said. “But there’s no one else but me who can handle this stuff. Shane’s parents are out of the country. They go somewhere every winter, and I’m not even sure where they are this year—France, Italy, I just…I don’t know. Even if I could reach them right now, it’d take them a day or two to get there. And that still wouldn’t change the fact Shane and I signed a legal document giving me the authority to make his medical decisions if he can’t.”
Jay still didn’t say anything, making the ache in my chest almost more painful than the one in my gut.
“Please, Jay. Please understand. Shane’s in a bad place. He needs me right now. I can’t just abandon him.”
Jay’s sucked in a sharp breath and his face turned the color of snow.
As soon as I saw his reaction, I realized what I’d just said. “Oh God, I didn’t mean—”
“It’s fine,” he said, cutting me off, his voice so damned quiet, but now also tight with pain.
I could see from the look on his face how deeply the words had cut because of how identical they’d been to what Garrett had told him.
“It’s not fine. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” I reached for his face, but he eased away, not letting me touch him, stabbing me in the heart.
“You probably should go,” he said in that awful tight voice. “It’s already one in the morning and the drive’s going to take you a while because of the weather.”
“It’s okay. I understand why you need to go. I do.”
“I can’t leave you like this.”
He relented then and squeezed my hand. “I’ll be okay. And I’ll have these guys to keep me busy.” He looked down at the dogs snuggled next to him.
“Hunter, please, get on the road, okay? So I don’t have to worry about you driving too fast to get there on time. It’s okay.” He nodded.
No. No it wasn’t. At all.
“Come on. I’ll walk you to the Jeep.” He rose and went to the front door, where he’d left his boots earlier, and put them on.
“Jay,” I whispered, frozen in place. But he picked up my computer bag, with the few extra things I’d stuffed into it making it bulge, and went out into the garage.
The dogs, anxious about what was going on, both stood in the middle of the fleece blanket on the couch.
With tears stinging my eyes, I knelt and nuzzled my face against each of them. “I’m going to miss you two so much. But I promise I’ll be back soon. While I’m gone, though, please, take good care of your other daddy, okay? He’s hurting right now and I hate that. I love him so much, and I don’t want him to hurt.”
Hazel prowled across the couch and butted her head against one of my hands, demanding her fair share of time. I stroked her as well. “Hazel, you, too…look out for him, okay?” She purred her agreement.
I stood, wiping the dampness from my eyes. Then I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to ignore how shaky it was.
With a final look around, I slid my arms into my wool coat, wrapped my scarf around my neck and went out to the garage.
Jay had already put my bag in the Jeep and opened the garage door. He stood waiting for me, his gaze fixed on the falling snow outside.
“Hey,” I said softly, approaching him.
He slowly turned to me and gave me an obviously forced half smile. “Hey.”
“This is short term. I’m going to go do what I have to do, and then I promise, I’ll be back.”
“I love you, Jay.”
“I love you.”
I stepped into him, wrapped a hand around the back of his head, and kissed him. He kissed back, and it was unbelievably sweet and tender. But it had a tinge of poignancy as well that made my chest ache harder than ever.
“All right, go,” Jay said, moving away. “Before it gets any later.”
I nodded, but couldn’t seem to make myself open the car door.
He did it for me.
With a sigh I slid behind the wheel and started the engine.
“Text me when you get to the airport, okay? I’ll be worried until I hear from you.”
I nodded, struggling to speak past the hot lump in my throat.
“I really do hope for the best for him,” Jay said.
I could feel my eyes stinging again. “Me, too,” I whispered.
Like Jay, I truly didn’t wish Shane ill. But I couldn’t deny that foremost on my mind at this exact moment was the fact if Shane were okay, I could come back to Jay that much sooner.
Jay shut the car door before I was ready. I wanted to reach for him again. Kiss him again. But he went to stand on the step that led up into the kitchen.
I fought the urge to turn off the car, get out, and go to him. I didn’t want to leave. Especially not like this.
But then I thought of Shane, lying on an operating table halfway across the country, and the fucking knot in my gut gave me a brutal reminder that, whether I liked it or not, I had obligations to fulfill.
I put the Jeep in reverse and backed out of the garage. Then, with my heart aching, I watched Jay press the garage door button on the wall. He slowly disappeared from sight as the door slid shut, leaving me alone and already feeling a million miles away from him.