Beth hurried down the hall of the bustling hospital looking for Nicole and Anna. It had taken her longer than she thought to cancel all appointments for that day and reschedule them before she closed the office and made her way there. She rounded a corner and saw her sister sitting in a chair alone with her head in her hands and then further up the hall she saw Nicole crying in Ryan’s arms on the floor against the wall.
Beth sat down beside Anna and gently ran her hand in circles over Anna’s back. She heard Anna sniffle and then she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and sat up, looking at Beth with red eyes.
“I never meant to cause so much pain,” Anna whispered to Beth, “I just have this mentality that I want what I want and I have to have it. I feel horrible that Chad is in here and that Nicole is suffering, but I can’t manage to get over what I’m feeling and be there for her. I mean, Nicole was amazing, thinking of me this morning and rushing over to pick me up despite her hatred towards me...”
“I know you didn’t mean to,” Beth replied, pulling her little sister close, “Don’t ignore what you are feeling Anna, but just realize that you aren’t the only one hurting right now. Granted, you are the current woman in Chad’s life and you are expecting his child, but Nicole is probably hurting much more than you are right now.”
“And what’s going on with her and Ryan?” Anna asked, pointing towards where they were, “It looks like she has her own little thing going on with him behind Chad’s back.”
“Anna, don’t go there,” Beth cautioned, “Nicole and Ryan have a loaded history. He ran into her months ago and he has been her rock during this difficult time. They have been struggling with their feelings for each other, but they have managed to keep things in check until Nicole decides what she wants in life. Right now, there is nothing going on except that he is there for her as her friend...that’s all. Nothing more.”
Anna nodded in response and then leaned into her sister, sighing heavily. Beth rested her chin on the top of her sister’s head and held her close. Beth may have been angry with her for what she did to Nicole, but Beth loved her so much and nothing could change that.
“I’ve missed you big sis,” Anna whispered, “I know I don’t deserve forgiveness, but I hope that you will forgive me one day. And when the time is right, I will ask Nicole for forgiveness as well. I just don’t think that time is now...”
“If I can forgive Chad, I can forgive you,” Nicole replied, her voice filled with pain and sorrow.
Both Anna and Beth looked up, not having realized that Nicole and Ryan had slowly made their way over to them. Beth watched as Nicole sat down on the other side of Anna and reached for her hands. Anna looked over at Nicole, her eyes glistening with tears that were threatening to spill over.
“I forgave Chad while I was in his room with him,” Nicole said quietly, “It’s going to take me awhile to move on from this, but Anna, I forgive you as well. You have always been a part of my life and while it may take a while for me to trust you again, I’m not going to spend my life resenting you. I figure, right now during this horrible situation, we need to stick together...but only if you want to.”
The damn broke and the tears fell down Anna’s cheeks. Beth could tell that Anna was unable to form a response, but knew that Anna was more than grateful that Nicole had taken such a big step in trying to repair the damage that had been done.
“Anna, I don’t have any idea what is going to happen in the next little while,” Nicole stated, trying not to let the emotion take over, “But no matter what happens, I will make sure that you and your baby are taken care of. You will not be alone if the worst should happen.”
Beth was overwhelmed with happiness that her best friend had taken the high road. They had been best friends for as long as she could remember and Nicole had always had a generous soul and a giving nature, but this took that to a whole different level.
Beth watched as Anna smiled at Nicole and then wrapped her arms around her. Nicole hugged her back and looked over at Beth just as a single tear fell down her face. Nicole ran a hand through Anna’s hair and they held each other. It was almost like old times.
Beth made eye contact with Ryan who just stood on the sidelines and took it all in. He smiled at Beth and nodded his head. They silently acknowledged that despite the pain right now, Nicole and Anna were on the road to recovery.
Nicole sat there in the hallway with Anna’s head in her lap. Anna had fallen asleep an hour earlier. They still hadn’t heard anything from the doctors. No update on Chad, no nothing and Nicole was losing her mind with worry.
She had taken a big step earlier that day when she had forgiven Anna, but she figured that she couldn’t stay mad at her forever. It became apparent to her that day that life was too short to resentful or bitter. Of course she was still hurt and her heart was broken, but she knew that her broken heart would heal in time. No matter what happened now, at least she had Anna, Ryan and Beth by her side to help her through it.
“Do you want anything?” Ryan asked her, interrupting her thoughts, “Coffee, something to eat. I’m heading down to the cafeteria.”
“Thanks Ryan,” Nicole replied with a smile, “But I’m ok for now.”
Her heart melted slightly as he smiled in return and then turned and made his way down the hall to the elevators. As she watched him walk away she noticed Dr. Burrows walking towards her. Nicole gently nudged Anna and Anna groaned and opened her eyes.
“It’s the doctor,” Nicole whispered, more to herself than anyone else.
Nicole stood up as the doctor approached them and she felt sick to her stomach. Nicole noticed dried blood on Dr. Burrows’ scrubs and shoes and she looked tired and worn out. Nicole did not feel positive about the news.
“Nicole, Anna...Chad is in recovery and he will be returned to his room shortly,” Dr. Burrows started, looking at both of them with sympathy, “We tried to do everything we could, but we weren’t able to stop the internal bleeding. There was a lot of damage done and his organs are slowly starting to shut down. Now we are just doing everything that we can to make Chad as comfortable as possible. I’m so sorry that we couldn’t do more to save him. I’m afraid all we can do now is wait.”
Anna turned and looked at Nicole and she looked back at her. The pain in Nicole’s heart was unbearable and for a moment she was having a hard time breathing. The news was like multiple punches to the stomach and all she wanted to do was curl up on the floor in the fetal position and cry. Anna sat down in her chair and Nicole nodded her head in response at the doctor before she turned and walked down the hall. She had no idea where she was going, but she did know that she had to get out of there. The air flowing through the hospital was stifling and Nicole felt like she was suffocating.
“Nicole,” Dr. Burrow’s called after her, “When you get back Chad will be in his room. He was asking for you.”
Nicole tucked the information away and pushed the door open to the stairs and made her way down. Why was this happening?
When Nicole went back up to the ICU, Dr. Burrows greeted her at the nurse’s station. Nicole managed to muster up a small, sad smile and the doctor smiled back.
“I’m so sorry Nicole,” Dr. Burrows said quietly, “I wish I had had better news for you.”
“Me too,” Nicole managed as she leaned against the counter at the station, “So, there’s been no change?”
“I’m sorry, no,” Dr. Burrows replied, “He is back in his room now. He is sedated, but he does want to see you. Take as long as you want.”
Nicole nodded her head and then she made her way down the hall, past her friends, past the vending machines, past other rooms loaded with machines making “beep beep” noises and turned the corner and stood in front of Chad’s room. The door was closed and her hands were sweaty. She closed her eyes and replayed every perfect memory that her and Chad ever shared in her mind. She thought of only the good moments and the positive feelings because that was how she wanted to remember their relationship. After a moment, Nicole took a deep breath, reached for the door handle and quietly pushed the door open. She made her way into his room and closed the door behind her.
“Nic...” she heard Chad whisper, “Is that you?”
“It’s me Chad,” Nicole said quietly as she moved to his bed and reached for his hand, “I’m here and I’ll stay as long as you want me to.”
“You never did anything wrong Nic,” Chad mumbled, the tears sparkling in his eyes, “I just wanted you to know that...you did everything right. I don’t know what...”
“Shhh, shhh...I don’t want us to focus on that,” Nicole interrupted him, “What’s done is done and now we are here, in the present, just the two of us. I have forgiven you and now there is nothing left to dwell on.”
“Will you take care of Anna and the baby?” Chad asked hesitantly.
Nicole smiled down at her husband and leaned in to kiss his forehead. Despite everything that he had been through in the last 15 hours, he still smelled like him. She had always liked the way he smelled.
“Already taken care of my love,” Nicole whispered as she ran a hand through his hair, “I promise that no matter what happens and no matter how hard it will be in the beginning, I will make sure that they are taken care of. I can do that for you.”
He smiled up at her before he gently patted the bed beside him. She looked down at him curiously and realized what he was asking. This was it, this was the moment. He wanted her by his side in his last moments.
“Lay with me?” he asked her, “For old time sake...I miss you Nicole.”
Without saying a word, Nicole kicked off her shoes and crawled onto his bed and curled up beside him. She closed her eyes and bit her lip when she felt Chad’s lips press against her forehead. Her heart was breaking with every moment that passed. He held her close and she laid her arm over his chest, holding him tight, but being careful not to hurt him.
“I love you Chad,” Nicole whispered as the tears fell from her eyes, “No matter what, I will always love you.”
“I love you too Nic,” he mumbled.
Nicole could tell he was tired and he was fighting to come out on top. But she also knew that his injuries were preventing him from fighting as hard as she knew he could. She looked up into his eyes and he smiled down at her sadly, the light in his eyes fading slowly.
“Don’t cry Nic,” Chad said breathlessly, “We’re together now and that’s all that matters. You have to be strong. Tell Hudson that daddy loves him if I don’t get an opportunity...”
“Of course I will,” Nicole replied, her voice cracking with emotion, “I miss you so much...please hold on as long as you can.”
No more words were spoken as Chad ran his hand slowly through her long brown hair and kissed her forehead one last time before he dozed off. Nicole watched his face as he fell asleep, he looked so peaceful, like he didn’t have a care in the world. She refused to leave his side and she held on to him as tight as she could hoping that he would stay with her if she kept holding on to him. She closed her eyes and the sounds of the heart monitor and his shallow breathing had been enough to help her doze off.
“Nicole...wake up sweetheart...”
Nicole opened her eyes and looked up to Dr. Burrows standing by Chad’s bed. She had wondered how long she had been asleep. Judging by the look on Dr. Burrows’ face, something had happened. Nicole noticed that the machines were no longer beeping and she could no longer hear Chad’s shallow breathing. She turned and looked up at her husband and everything in that moment changed, her whole life had been turned upside down.
“He’s gone,” Dr. Burrows said, answering her question, “He passed an hour ago, but we couldn’t bear to wake you up yet. He went how he wanted to though, with you by his side...I’m so sorry Nicole.”
Nicole looked up at Dr. Burrows, feeling like she had been punched and kicked in the stomach. Losing someone you loved so much was the most painful thing that had ever happened to her. She couldn’t say anything, she was unable to form the words to express what she was feeling. Her heart was a mess and she felt lost.
“I’ll leave you alone for a bit,” Dr. Burrows said quietly as she rubbed Nicole’s back, “Take your time.”
Once the door had closed, Nicole sat on the bed beside her husband unsure of what to do next. Her hand was still resting in his and he looked more peaceful than he ever had in the time she had been with him. She laid her head on his chest and a loud sob escaped her throat. She realized in that moment that she had still been in love with him despite what he had done to her and now, he was gone and she was a widow.