“The kitten,” I gasp out.
“Safe and sound,” he says. “Mateo’s picking her up from the vet later.”
One eyebrow raises. “Mateo Garza? The famous actor? I hope you didn’t suffer memory loss, because I need you whole and healthy. We’re checking out this afternoon.”
The words are a slap in the face. I have to fight the physical recoil.
We’re checking out this afternoon. Who? Him and Paige?
I’m still groggy from whatever’s going through the IV attached to my hand. I can barely lift my head. Walking feels a million miles beyond my abilities.
That means he’s leaving me behind. Where is the man who held me so tight it crushed my body? Where is the man who shouted that he loved me as if he could hold back the flames through force of will? He has the same dark eyes, the same square jaw. The same mahogany hair. Physically he’s the same man. Emotionally he’s a stranger.
“I’ll be fine,” I say around the knot in my throat.
It’s habit that has me reassuring him, habit that comes from being alone and abandoned. Habit that I should have known better than to expect anything else.
In sixth grade the case worker was supposed to pick me up from one foster home and take me to a new one. She got delayed with another case. There was a phone call somewhere, a misplaced text, but the end result was that I sat on the curb in the blazing sun, sweat streaming down my face, running into my eyes.
And then it turned dark.
It got cold.
I huddled with my black trash bag full of clothes and schoolwork, waiting. I knew better than to go back inside the house. The door was locked. I didn’t have a phone or any way to reach her, so I waited. I tore up blades of grass into thin slices. I dragged my finger along the rough pavement, trailing along after the ants and roly-polies who accepted me as one of them.
The case worker showed up the next morning, horrified that I’d been waiting.
I used the same voice then as I do now. The same expression. False brightness. “I’ll manage fine on my own. Don’t worry about me.”
Beau gives me an incredulous look. “Leave.”
For a terrible second I think he’s talking to me. The nurse shakes his head. Out of the corner of my eye I watch him walk out of the room, muttering under his breath.
I have a vague recollection of firefighters crashing into the room. They looked like martians in their huge yellow suits and helmets, wielding axes and hoses. There were EMTs who loaded me into an ambulance. A flurry of doctors when we arrived at the emergency room bay.
And then, when I woke up, there was the nurse.
I don’t blame Rochester for not sitting with me. I understand he has his own injuries, his own exhaustion, though most likely he was with Paige. He has a responsibility to her. Of course he would stay with her, but it does mean this is the first time we’ve been together.
The first time we’ve been together since I thought I was going to die.
I know I’m being churlish, but that knowledge isn’t enough to stop me. Jane’s eyes are red. Her voice is hoarse. There’s a bruise on her temple and butterfly bandages beneath her lips. She’s been injured, battered. I should be gentle, but I’m torn between sending her back to Houston or demanding she never, ever leave. I don’t like feeling this out of control. She’s got my emotions in a vise. Even with Emily, it was never like this.
“You’re coming with us,” I manage, my tone hard.
She blinks at me, those wide brown eyes that have seen too much pain for someone so young. I want to wrap my arms around her. “But what if the doctor—?”
“The doctor will discharge you. Unless you’re bleeding out, she’s got better things to do than babysit you.” Stop being an ass, Rochester. “Besides, Paige needs her nanny.”
Jane’s eyes are clouded with something—worry, hurt? I can’t tell, but it’s nothing good. It’s nothing good because everything I say is wrong. “Of course. How is she? The nurse said she’ll be okay, but how is she emotionally?”
A wreck. I don’t say the words, because it feels like speaking them would make it real. I’d feel better if she raged and screamed and cried. Isn’t that normal behavior for a child who experienced trauma? Instead she’s withdrawing. The nurses and doctors on her floor wear colorful scrubs with cartoon characters. They have stickers and other fun things in their pockets, but she glares at them with blatant mistrust. And Mateo. She can barely stand to be in the same room with him. I shouldn’t have guilted Jane into coming home with us, but it was the truth. Paige does need her nanny. I need her nanny, too.
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