As I clutched my stomach, Noel said, “No, don’t come. You said Colton’s still upset. He needs you. I’ll be okay. Just talking to you helps. Hearing your voice.”
After pausing to listen to a question, he sighed wearily. “She’s a complete mess. She’s hurting and blames herself, and fuck…I don’t know what to do for her. What if she ends up a nineteen-year-old widow because of this? I just hold her as she cries herself to sleep, and I try not to lose it myself in front of her. But God, Aspen. He was my best friend. What if he dies and the last things I said to him were—”
He hissed out a breath. “I know, but I still feel like shit. I was such a dick. I treated him awful, and he might die from saving both my brother and my sister’s lives. He truly fucking loved her, and I was too mad and felt too betrayed to even see that. I can’t…I just—”
When his voice broke, tears spilled down my cheeks. I hurried around the corner. His red wet eyes widened when they saw me.
“I’m sorry.” I rushed to him and hugged him. His arms immediately went around me. “I’m sorry, I was only thinking about me.”
He buried his face in my hair. “No. I’m sorry I was so fucking stubborn.”
We hugged and cried, and he finally ended his call with his wife. Time passed, I have no idea how much. Seconds, hours, minutes. It all seemed to be sucked into some surreal vacuum where none of this was really happening. It was just a crazy, awful dream, and I was going to wake up any time now. I’d open my eyes and be back in Oren’s bed with our legs tangled and his palm cupping my breast. Light would stream in through the windows and he’d crack open his eyes to send me one of his lazy, sexy morning grins.
“Morning,” he’d say. “I guess you decided to stick around another day, huh?”
But then Noel pulled away from me, wiping his face, and I was still in a hospital, where I hadn’t seen Oren in six hours, not since he’d looked up from where he was dangling and told me he loved me before letting go of my hand.
A shudder of horror passed through me, wondering if I’d ever look into those vivacious hazel eyes again.
Noel sent me a tremulous smile that was full of grief. “I totally didn’t mean to fall apart on you like that.”
I squeezed his arm. “It’s okay. Just do me a favor and stop talking about him in the past tense. He’s going to be okay. He’s going to make it.”
Pain passed over Noel’s face, but he washed it away with another sad smile and nodded. “You got it.”
With that agreement made, we wrapped our arms around each other and started back to the waiting room, where we realized a doctor in surgical scrubs had arrived. Oren’s parents had reappeared, too.
“Here she is.” Pick motioned to me when I entered the room.
The doctor turned, took me in from head to toe and then nodded before saying, “Mrs. Tenning, I’m Dr. Wolfowitz, the trauma surgeon who worked on your husband. When Oren came in, he was unconscious and in shock. There was significant damage to the left frontal and parietal bone, which probably occurred when he crashed into the log and boulder he was trapped against until they found him. Though that probably saved him from drowning to death, it’s also what caused the most damage. There was so much trauma to the head and spinal cord...”
Was? Why did he keep saying was like everything was all past tense? Like Oren was past tense.
“Other than the brain injury, he has a dislocated shoulder, fractured leg, and significant, permanent scarring to the right side of the face, though we were able to save the damaged eye and ear.”
I gulped and pressed my hand over my mouth. Permanent scarring meant nothing to me. No, actually it meant everything. It meant he was still alive. Saving an eye and ear, that meant they’d saved the rest of him too, right? His heart was still beating?
“So he’s alive?” I rasped the words, almost afraid to voice them.
The doctor hesitated. I have no idea why he hesitated. If Oren’s eye and ear had made it, then the rest of him had to have made it too.
Finally, the doctor gave a small nod. But then he had to go and chase it with, “We had to put him into a medically induced coma to give the brain time to heal.”
“Oh my God.” Brenda covered her mouth with her hands and turned to Phil, where he immediately gathered her into his arms.
I stared at them a moment as the word coma echoed through my ears. But Oren was in a coma. It didn’t even seem possible. The most irritatingly, lively, foulmouthed, loving jerk I’d ever met, and they’d shut down his brain?