I can hear the restrained panic in Tessa’s voice. I fall to the ground, my knees hitting the sidewalk and causing a shooting pain to ride up my thighs. But that’s not the pain that has me struggling to breathe. “Oh no, God. Please no.” I push myself up and begin running toward my jeep when I remember my aunt. “Fuck!” Running faster than I ever have, I take the stairs because I don’t want to wait for the elevator. My aunt is where I left her and she startles when she sees me, meeting me halfway next to the nurse’s station. I’m crying and I can barely take in any air, but I manage to speak. “Ben’s been shot. I have to go. Right now. Do I need to do something? Is there anything I need to do here? Please can I just go?” My chest is heaving from my run and my legs are burning, but I don’t care. And if I have paperwork or anything I have to do, it will have to wait.
She squeezes my hand, shaking her head with concerned eyes. “No, sweetie. Go. I’ll take care of everything. Call me when you get there.”
I run back down the stairs, nearly falling in my hurried state. Once I get outside, I dial Tessa’s number as I sprint to the jeep. It goes straight to voicemail.
“I’m on my way. Oh my God, please call me back and tell me he’s okay. Tell him I love him, Tessa. Tell him I’m going to say that to him every second for the rest of his life. He’ll never go another day without hearing those words from me.” I wipe the tears from my eyes so I can focus on the road in front of me as I whip through the parking lot. “Please don’t take him away from me,” I whimper my plea to God and to Tessa, not knowing if either one of them will hear me. If Tessa is in the hospital, she probably won’t get this message until she walks outside. And if Ben is dying, why would she leave him? I wouldn’t leave his side if I was there. The man I spent the last two hours bitterly hating was the man I loved more than anything in the world. He was my life, my family, and my future. I couldn’t lose him. I wouldn’t lose him. I’ve never believed in fate before, but I did the moment I saw Ben in that bar. He was always the one for me. We were always meant to end up together. And the two hundred miles that are separating us now will be the last thing to ever keep us apart. I’ll make damn sure of that.
* * *
“I want pamcakes! I want pamcakes!” Nolan yells, jumping up and down on the sofa. “Pamcakes, pamcakes, pamcakes!”
I love my nephew, but I’m about to stick him in the dryer.
I grunt my annoyance, looking for any sign of the red jeep out the window. “Nolan, relax please. Mia should be back any minute.”
“It’s Pwincess Mia,” he corrects me, causing me to narrow my eyes at him.
I snatch my cell phone from his little grubby fingers and dial her number. It rings four times and then her voicemail greeting comes through the phone. I wait for the beep. “Oh my God. Please tell me you’re on your way back. The little monster is getting unbearable to be around. Oh and if you’re still at the store, can you pick me up some mountain dew?” I hang up and watch as Nolan rips all the pillows off the couch and jumps on them like stones in a creek. “How about some Fruit Loops to hold you over?”
He jerks his head up and connects with my eyes. “Gwoss. I hate fwuit woops. I want pamcakes.” His little menacing body flies into the air with each leap he takes. “Pwincess Mia pwomised me.”
I turn away from him and look out the sliding glass door, praying that Mia’s body will come into view any second. But it doesn’t. And my impatience begins to grow right along with Nolan’s as the time ticks by. I dial her number again.
“Hey. You do remember how to get to my parents’ house, right? Nolan’s about to start eating the furniture.”
“Which grocery store did you go to? There are some in Alabama. I’m about to start making pancakes out of cornmeal and I’m not sure how those are going to go over so you might want to speed it up a little.”
“Sweet Jesus! Would you call me and let me know that you’re still alive!”
Nolan’s voice grows louder and louder, more urgent as the minutes drag on. I silence him with my phone when I think my head is going to explode and raid the fridge myself. I don’t need to wait for pancake mix to eat breakfast. I am perfectly happy with Fruit Loops, unlike my hot meal loving nephew.
“Nolan, don’t buy any more apps. I will be looting your piggy bank to pay for the seven that you’ve bought already.”
He doesn’t respond as I clean up my dishes, most likely browsing the hottest games on ITunes. Another hour goes by before I grab my phone and really start to worry. There’s no way in hell it should take Mia this long. Not unless she really did go to another state to grocery shop. I notice the missed call from Mia on my screen.
“Nolan, damn it. You turned my volume down.”
He gasps softly and I look up at his wide-eyed stare. “You said a bad wowrd.”
Shit. I hold my phone up to my ear to listen to her voicemail, turning the TV on as a distraction. Hopefully he’ll find something amusing and will forget all about my potty mouth. I really don’t feel like getting my ass handed to me by Ben for my language usage around his son.
“Hey, it’s me. I’m so sorry I missed your calls but I’m in Fulton at the hospital. It’s my mom. She’s dying, Tessa. I got the call from my aunt when I was at the grocery store and I just drove straight here. Can you tell Ben to call me? Or text me or something? I tried calling him but he didn’t answer. Oh and tell Nolan I’m sorry about the pancakes. I’ll make him some the next time I see him.”
“Oh God.” I exit my voicemail and quickly dial her number again, cursing under my breath and moving into the kitchen. She doesn’t pick up and I begin to cry. “Oh my God, Mia, I’m so sorry I missed your call. Nolan was playing with my phone and turned down the volume.” I try to muffle my cries but I’m one of those loud criers and it’s useless. “Jesus, I should be there with you. I’m going to call Ben right now and let him know what’s going on. Just call me when you get a chance, okay? I love you.”
I wipe my eyes and dial Ben’s number. Nolan jumps around on the couch cushions, completely oblivious to me and anything else that isn’t the cartoon he’s watching. Thank God I got his mind off those pancakes. “God damn it.” Ben’s voicemail message begins playing. I wait for the beep and slip farther into the kitchen, trying to get out of earshot of Nolan. “Is nobody answering their phones today? Mia’s mom is dying, Ben. She needs you. She’s already in Fulton and you better call her or get your ass there. I’ll take care of Nolan. And answer your phone when I call you please.”
I dial Mia’s number again. “Hey, it’s me. I called Ben but had to leave him a message. God, I wish I was there with you. I hate that you’re dealing with this alone. Just call me as soon as you get this and let me know what’s going on. I’ll keep trying Ben.”
I dial his number again.
“Answer your fucking phone. Mia needs you, asshole.”
I hang up and walk over to the counter, grabbing the box of cookies that is almost empty. There is no way in hell I am going to inform Nolan that he won’t be having pancakes any time soon. I’ve seen some of his temper tantrums.