I pick up the couch cushions and resituate them before plopping down on the end. “I feel like having cookies for breakfast.” I take a bite of one of the chocolate chip ones as he scrambles up next to me, his crazy gray eyes flicking from my mouth to the box. “What about you?” He nods eagerly and dives for some cookies, lying sideways on the couch with his head at the other end while he eats and watches his cartoon.
I dial Mia’s number several more times, hoping to get a hold of her but get her voicemail each time. I also call Ben a few more times and I’m sent straight to his voicemail with each dial. I’m hurting for Mia and want to be there with her. Ms. Corelli was always so sweet to me when I was younger. She would do anything for anybody, a quality my best friend acquired. I think about throwing Nolan into my car and beginning the drive to Fulton, but I’d never do that unless I made Ben aware. And since my dumbass brother isn’t liking his phone today, I can’t make him aware of that plan.
Nolan and I devour the cookies while watching several of his favorite shows, and just as I’m about to grab us both a drink, my phone finally rings. I lunge for it, hoping and praying that it’s either Mia or Ben, but it isn’t. Luke’s name flashes on my screen and I hit ignore with my middle finger before turning it up in front of my phone as if he can see it. He is the last person I want to talk to. He calls again, and again, and each time I hit ignore with an irritated grunt. Until I realize like a complete dumbass that I need to talk to Luke. Because talking to Luke means getting through to Ben.
“Shit.” I frantically hit redial and stand from the couch, walking around the back of it. Nolan giggles at my choice word before turning back to his cartoon.
“Jesus fucking Christ. Finally!” Luke barks into my ear. I open my mouth to cut him down to size and to remind him that we’re not together so I don’t have to answer his calls when his voice halts me. “Ben’s been shot, Tessa. They’re taking him to St. Joseph’s hospital.”
His words are like a kick to my diaphragm. I feel the air leave my lungs and I don’t register anything else coming through the phone. It’s all white noise. Background gibberish from a guy that I don’t really want to talk to anyway. The bones in my hand ache as I grip the phone tighter and stare at the back of Nolan’s head. Ben’s been shot. Nolan. Mia. I somehow manage to take in a breath and find my voice.
“I’m on my way. I’ll meet you there.”
I hit end and run down the hall toward my bedroom, dialing Mia’s number. I’m not even surprised at this point when it goes to voicemail. I try to keep my voice as calm as I can for her. “Mia, Ben’s been shot. He’s been fucking shot. I don’t know anything except for that they’re taking him to St. Joseph’s hospital. Please call me. Please.”
I hang up and grab my keys before sprinting back into the living room. “Nolan, come on. We gotta go.”
He continues jumping on the couch. “I wanna watch dis.” I grab him and feel his body tense in protest. “Noooo!” He flails in my arms but I just hold him tighter as we head out to my car.
“Stop it, Nolan. We need to go see Daddy.”
He immediately stops fighting me and I immediately regret telling him where we are going. If something were to happen to Ben and Nolan doesn’t get to see him, I’m not sure how I will handle that. Not only for him, but for me as well. And Mia. God, no. I can’t think about that. Nothing was going to happen to him. I fight back my tears and buckle Nolan in before peeling away from the house.
St. Joseph’s hospital is thirty-five minutes away but I get there in a little under twenty. I wanted to call my parents but I couldn’t inform them of Ben’s situation with Nolan and his sonic hearing listening in, so I resorted to a text message. I knew I’d get an earful once they saw that this was the way I’d decided to fill them in, but it was my only option at the moment.
I manage to keep myself calm when I collect Nolan from the car and carry him into the hospital. But once the lady at the reception desk tells me Ben’s room number, I sprint toward the elevators. I don’t know what condition I will find him in. He could be unconscious. Unrecognizable. Dead. I have no idea. I don’t know the extent of his injuries and I am willing to risk Nolan seeing his father in whatever state he is in because I need to see him.
Once the elevator stops on my floor, I clutch Nolan against my side as I maneuver between the people in the hallway. 319. 319. I’m scanning for Ben’s room number as I pass every doorway. Finally after what feels like a lifetime, I pass room 317 and know his room is next. I stop just before reaching his door, my heart pumping so loud it’s causing tremors in my field of vision. I let out an unsteady breath and shift Nolan on my hip before filling the doorway.
I’m prepared for blood.
I’m prepared for the annoying constant beeping of machines and the sight of my brother bandaged up.
But this? I’m not prepared for this. Not after the multitude of emotions I’ve felt today.
My heart thunders in my chest at the sight of Ben, sitting up in bed while a nurse tends to his shoulder. He looks completely unharmed except for the deep gash that the nurse is stitching up. Luke is sitting next to him in a chair beside the bed and as I step into the room, both pairs of eyes fixate on me.
“Daddy!” Nolan scrambles out of my arms and runs over to the bed, climbing up on it.
“What the hell is this?” I gesture with my hand toward my brother, getting a bewildered expression in return. “I thought you’d be dying. Or at least severely injured.” I snap my head toward Luke who leans back in his chair in response to the anger behind my glare. “Jesus Christ, Luke. You think you could’ve mentioned that Ben was only suffering from a flesh wound! Do you have any idea how scared I was! How scared I’ve probably made Mia!”
“Where is Mia?” Ben asks, but his question goes unanswered when I continue contemplating how I’d like to inflict pain on the idiot in the room.
Luke’s eyes shift from Ben’s to mine. “I told you he was wearing his vest, thank Christ, and only took one to the arm. If he hadn’t been wearing it, he’d probably be dead. Look at this thing.” He reaches down and lifts Ben’s police vest off the ground, numerous holes visible through the chest plate.
I put my hands on my hips. “You didn’t say that. You only said he got shot and was en route to the hospital. Thanks for keeping the important details to yourself, asshole.” I don’t want to admit to Luke that I had tuned him out sometime during our conversation. He could’ve told me that Ben was okay, and the thought of me not hearing it instead of him not saying it was maddening. I’ve freaked everyone out for no reason. This was all me. But he doesn’t need to know that.
Ben grabs Nolan’s head and covers his ears. “Really, Tessa? Could you not cuss around him? And where the fuck is Mia?” he harshly whispers, keeping Nolan completely oblivious.
Luke stands up and drops the vest on the bed. “God, I’m so sick of this shit from you. You break up with me for no God damned reason at all, and now you act like a complete bitch.” He bridges the gap between us, bringing his face inches from mine. “Why did you end it? You owe me a reason and you’re going to give it to me right fucking now.”