Stay With Me
Sometimes when I read, I don't really pay too much attention to the scenes that don't involve the main characters unless it's written really well or the scene contributes something meaningful to the book. Yet, I've found myself including these scenes to my story. I'm learning that it adds depth to the character as well helps the reader better understand that character's personality.
“You’ll be able to see her soon,” the nurse at the front desk answered when they asked about Alaine.
Soon, Lucas thinks with a scoff. That was over an hour ago. He had no idea when she said soon that he was meant to apply a connotative meaning to the word nor that it was actually hospital talk for sit tight and wait.
Generally, he is a patient man but this is beyond ridiculous. He’s never had to wait this long for anything in his life.
Irritated, Lucas grinds his teeth. In frustration, he runs a hand through his already wild head of hair as he continues to fend off the persisting urge to pace.
The last thing he wants to do is draw attention to himself; here. Accordingly, he sits beside the large ficus in the corner of the hospital’s waiting room, hoping that the plant’s plenteous foliage provides enough cover.
For the time being, the few folks scattered over the green pleather covered chairs, lined against the white walls, are too consumed by their own concerns to recognize him.
While fully aware that now is absolutely not a good time to be selfishly absorbed with his image, Lucas is glad to remain invisible. God alone knows what tomorrow’s headline will read should word get out that he was sighted at a hospital in Queens. And in this condition.
In adherence to some unwritten hospital rule, the other occupants in the spacious room converse in hushed tones.
One group of four huddled together bears the mark of a family. Not in physicality. In that regard, they are curiously different. Rather, it is their shared anxiousness that gives their relationship away.
Although he doesn’t know the woman, Lucas suspects that they are here for the shopkeeper – Mona.
A twinge of guilt twists his stomach. She’d never once crossed his mind. His only thought has been for Alaine. Now that he is thinking about it, had she been okay, Mona would likely be here biting her nails over Alaine’s condition; just like he is. In the brief time he interacted with them, the two did seem quite fond of each other.
The other people around them don’t seem too worried. They even share a joke or two amongst themselves, expressed with stifled laughter.
Lucas supposes that conversation is probably a better way to pass the time than brooding but his only companion is Seth.
He looks across to where his driver and bodyguard is lounging against the wall. What would he say to him anyway?
To calm his whirring thoughts, Lucas tries scheming through the new emails on his phone. It takes only about thirty seconds to realize that his mind is simply too preoccupied and his brain too listless from starvation to concentrate. Finding it impossible to remain still any longer, he decides to obey his body’s demand for sustenance.
“I’m going for walk,” he says to Seth.
That announcement perks up his driver immediately. Nodding his head, Seth pushes himself out of his resting position. “Yes, sir,” he replies dutifully.
While Lucas would love to be the one who remains in case the doctor comes out to say that it is possible to see Alaine, he shakes his head.
“Stay,” he tells Seth. “Someone needs to be here. I think it’s better if it’s family. Call me if anything happens.”
Though Seth is certain that the woman in question would prefer the company of their boss to his, he nods his head again. “Okay,” he agrees reluctantly. “But, if you’re not back in fifteen minutes, I’m coming looking. Where are you going?”
“In search of food,” Lucas confesses before ambling out of the waiting room to the elevators.
Three floors down and after searching the large maze of halls, he comes upon the cafeteria. Looking at his watch, Lucas thanks his lucky stars. Ten more minutes and it would have been closed.
A janitor, chips around to a lively beat pouring through his earphones as he focuses on cleaning the floor. Had this been Jackie, she would have reprimanded Lucas sternly for ′messing up’ the floor she’d just cleaned.
With that in mind, he walks cautiously across the room and offers the man an apologetic look.
His stomach rumbles loudly but the hope of finding something appetizing to eat are dashed even before he approaches the bare showcase.
“Good night,” the cashier greets when he stops at the counter. “What can I do for you?”
Lucas’ eyes shift between her and the single, questionable looking egg sandwich daring him to be brave enough to try it. His stomach protests against his hesitation.
“I promise it won’t kill you,” she says with a smile.
“I also don’t want to have to book a room here,” Lucas mutters.
“On the bright side, if you do get sick, you’re already in the right place,” she quips. At his deep scowl, she chuckles. “I don’t make it but I can tell you that we’ve never had such a case,” she assures him. “We do have drinks,” she offers while he wades in indecision. “And fresh fruit.”
“That I will take,” Lucas tells her.
Indicating to the tray sitting near the register she says, “take your pick.”
“Right,” he replies while staring at the display.
This is another thing he’s never done in his life – grocery shopping. That’s why he has a housekeeper. Something as simple as choosing one fruit over another can’t be that complex. Yet he waits and frowns under the scrutiny of the cashier.
“We’re closing soon,” she reminds him.
“You choose,” Lucas tells her.
She fixes her studious gaze on the tray and after a brief deliberation, picks a glowing red apple from the bunch then hands it to him. “It’s firm, no bruises,” she explains.
“Thank you,” Lucas says.
Considering the hour and the time she ate lunch, he has a feeling Alaine might need something to eat as well. “I’ll take another,” he says, this time choosing without her help. Then he reaches in for one more.
With his spoils in hand, Lucas exits the cafeteria. His need to eat rivals the urgency he feels to make his way back upstairs. Giving in, he bites into the crunchy apple. Anything he puts into his mouth at the moment will probably taste as if it was delivered straight from heaven.
While walking, he savours the sweet, juicy nectar but makes a detour to the gift shop located inside the hospital’s pharmacy before heading for the elevators.
He wants to get something for Alaine. But what? There’s not much to choose from. If he has to present her with a gift, it should be something meaningful. Added to his very little experience in that arena, the limited options are extremely unhelpful.
Bypassing the stuffed animal selection and the flowers which might serve to remind her of what she just lost, Lucas settles on a small box of chocolates.
Thankfully, when he gets back to the waiting room, Seth is still sitting there. Until now, it hadn’t occurred to him just how much missing the chance to see Alaine as soon as the time came would have bothered him.
“I thought you might want something to eat,” he says when he sinks into the chair beside his driver.
“You shouldn’t have,” Seth jokes, reaching in for the box of chocolates.
Despite his fatigue and unsatisfied stomach, Lucas finds himself chuckling. Handing Seth the apple, he says, “these are for the patient.”
Hiding his wonder at this development, Seth accepts the offering. “Thanks,” he says. “A nurse said it won’t be much longer.”
Lucas scoffs. “And you believe her?”
Just before the twenty-minute mark since he returned to the waiting room, a doctor finally approaches the seats where Lucas and Seth are reclined in the chairs.
Together, they stand eagerly to receive the information the man has concerning Alaine.
“We’re going to keep her for a couple more hours, but she should be clear to go home tonight,” the doctor tells them.
Some of the tension knotting the muscles in Lucas' neck and shoulders drain away.
“Can we see her?” he asks.
“I’m her cousin,” Seth interjects, in the event there might be an argument about family visits. “She doesn’t have anyone else in New York,” he adds.
Eyeing them above the thin rims of his spectacles the doctor says, “and let me guess, you’re the boyfriend?” to Lucas.
“Yes,” he answers without thought. “Is there a reason she can’t be discharged now?” he asks concerned.
“General observation,” the doctor replies. “She inhaled a fair amount of smoke. Before you leave, see the nurse about at home treatment to ensure her symptoms aren’t exacerbated,” he adds. “Her eyes are sensitive now so we’ve dimmed the lights in her room. Keep it that way. She shouldn’t talk too much. Or at all if it can be avoided. The first room down that hall.”
Quickly, Lucas follows the doctor’s directions. His hand stills on the door’s handle as, through the small glass window, he observes Alaine.
The oxygen mask is no longer attached to her face which is a good sign, but her glowing skin is dulled by a covering of soot. It annoys him that no one thought to help her clean up.
She looks so small and vulnerable like a child sitting up against the bed with her eyes closed.
The light tugging he feels on his heart is always surprising and still inexplicable. Maybe he’ll never understand it. It’s only been one week since they met so he can’t explain this compulsion to be with her either. When it comes to Alaine, he only has a desire to give in to everything he feels.
At night, when he is alone in his quiet apartment, he is no longer unbearably swamped by dark memories. Thoughts of Alaine filter into him like the first blush of dawn until it burns so brightly, there is room for nothing else but light. It makes him feel good. She does. Somehow, her presence steadies him.
“I know she’s your cousin,” Lucas says to Seth, “but would you mind giving me a minute with her, please?”
Unsure of how Alaine will respond to being in the same room with him anyway, Seth shrugs, to hide the hurt behind the thought.
“Not a problem,” he answers. “I’ll be out here when you guys are ready.”
As the door opens, Alaine looks up, her eyes wide. It took so long to go through all the tests and treatment, she hadn’t expected Lucas to still be here. Fresh tears glisten in her eyes as he slowly approaches her bed in the dimly lit room.
“I was so scared,” she rasps. Then she adds quickly, "I can't believe you're still here.
“Shhh,” Lucas chides gently and decides to ignore her last statement. “Don’t talk Alaine,” he tells her. “The doctor said you shouldn’t talk. Do you have your phone?”
Lucas turns to the little table she is pointing at to see the device attached to a charger. Setting down his small present, he picks up the phone and hands it to her before typing out a message.
That’s all he says. Just her name. But it draws an emotional response from her. It feels very much like he whispered in her ear.
Alaine takes a deep breath and looks up to find Lucas watching her with such tenderness and concern, the last of her defenses crumble in his wake.
She responds to his text with trembling fingers.
Alaine: I’m fine. My x-ray is fine. My blood work is fine. I am being discharged tonight.
Lucas: I know. I spoke with your physician. I am relieved.
Alaine: You can talk, you know.
Lucas: I kinda like this
Alaine: Me too. Why did you stay?
Sitting beside her on the bed, Lucas takes her small hand in his.
“Why didn’t you answer your phone, Alaine?” he asks softly. “I was calling,” he tells her, the distress he felt at that time resurfacing. “I called and called and called and...”
The feel of her thumb running soothingly over his knuckles stops Lucas and he looks down at their joined hands.
“My battery died...” she tries to explain until a little cough stops her.
“Don’t talk, Ali,” Lucas scolds again in his gentle tone. Unexpectedly, he leans down to place a lingering kiss on her forehead. "I was worried," he explains.
Alaine recovers quickly from her surprise. Nodding her head, she accepts the embrace he offers, pressing herself into the strong wall of his chest. Lucas’ arms encircle her and tighten and the comfort and safety she feels there is something she's never had before.
The logical part of her brain dictates that she shouldn't given in. Yet, despite the warning, she tries to burrow a little bit deeper into Lucas’ warmth. She can allow herself the indulgence. Even if it’s only for tonight.
The time she’d spent in that fiery, smoking death trap had been terrifying. She doesn’t even remember how she made it out. Mona had been so heavy to lift and Alaine knew then that she was going to die.
Her ability to think clearly had been suffocated by her fear just like her ability to breathe had been by the smoke. The last thing she can remember thinking is that she wishes she had more time with Lucas.
“Mona?” Alaine croaks against his shoulder. “They wouldn’t tell me...”
“She’s alive,” Lucas whispers, conveying the information he’d gleaned from eavesdropping on her family’s conversation. “Hurt, but alive. Her family is outside.”
Recognizing how lucky she is to still be here, Lucas makes no move to release her and Alaine is content to remain. He has no idea what is happening to him but a profound sadness and fear grip his heart at the thought of her dying.
The light knocks on the door signaling an intrusion aren’t enough to set them apart.
Seth enters, fumbles momentarily at the picture the two of them make but quickly resumes his determined strides towards the bed.
“What happened tonight, Alaine?” he questions gruffly.
She looks up into his stern features and bristles defiantly.
“I get it,” Seth states. “You hate me but this is serious. What happened? I need to know. Tell me,” he almost shouts.
“Seth,” Lucas cautions.
“Ali,” Seth says, his tone still stern but more tempered. “I need you to think. Was...”
“She can’t talk,” Lucas interrupts.
Setting Alaine back against the pillow, he rises to challenge Seth.
“We need to talk,” Seth says seriously, motioning Lucas with his head to join him in the hall.
With a deep scowl, Lucas nods his agreement. Before walking away, he leans down, cups Alaine’s chin with one hand and places a soft kiss on her lips. “I’ll be back, soon,” he promises.
Once they are out the door, Seth drags Lucas to a discreet corner by the arm. Not wanting to create an even bigger scene by shrugging out of his hold, Lucas allows the insult. Later, he is going to fire the guy. However, for now, he will give in to his curiosity to learn why his driver is suddenly acting as if he belongs in an insane asylum.
“What is wrong with you?” Lucas growls.
“The fire department is calling arson,” Seth explains immediately, his expression equal parts pensive and urgent – grave even.
Lucas regards him with a mixture of incredulity and horror. “They’ve already released an official statement?” he asks as his mind works, trying to wonder who would want to hurt the owner. Or Alaine. The thought sends a chill down his body.
“It’s still preliminary but, I called a friend of mine at the station, they seem to think so,” he says.
“Okay,” Lucas responds, trying to wrap his mind around that revelation. “So?” he asks Seth, waiting for more information or the makings of a plan. “There’s something you’re not telling me,” he accuses to the uncertainty and guilt in Seth’s eyes.
“A few weeks ago, I helped Alaine’s sister escape from her boyfriend back in Idaho,” he confesses. “The guy’s a real bastard. He was beating her. The kid too. I thought if I could get her away from him, she’d be safe. Plus he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. I didn’t think he would find her. But then Alaine made the news with you so...” he explains and trails off.
Trying to convince himself that the scenario makes no sense, Lucas shakes his head.
“Do you know for sure that it’s him?” he questions. “And why would he want to hurt Alaine? Why not go after his family?”
Seth shrugs and shakes his head. “I don’t know,” he admits solemnly. “Who knows how these people think?”
As someone who grew up on the receiving end of abuse for eleven years, Lucas has a fair idea. Actually, he’d like to think he knows exactly how they function which is why it is within the realm of possibility that Seth’s assumptions could be based in fact.
He knows how relentless they can be in their endeavour for power over a person and how ruthless they are in their efforts to break their victim into submission. Defiance is met with immeasurable cruelty until the sufferer has no choice but to cower.
Anger washes over Lucas. “Do you know this guy?” he asks Seth, impatiently.
“Harlan Jackson,” Seth confirms. “I’ve already called back home. No one’s seen him for a couple of days. Someone will pass by his trailer and get back to me. But if it is him, if he knows where Alaine works, he probably knows where she lives too.”
“She’ll stay with me,” Lucas determines.
“I guess that works,” Seth concedes, but hides his surprise. “I already called her sister. The place is quiet but I need to keep an eye on her. Just in case.”
Realizing that he trusts his driver, Lucas shakes his head. “No,” he says. “You’re with me. Get someone else on it. I’ll talk to Alaine.”
By the time their discussion is over the dull headache Lucas had been ignoring begins to feel like his brain is being trampled by a raging stampede.
When he reenters the room, Alaine is already dosing. He feels a little guilty about abandoning her just now. Especially because of the fresh tear streaks meandering down her face.
Stopping beside the bed, Lucas studies her resting features. How can anybody want to hurt something so precious?
Gently, he smooths the back of his hand across her cheek.
Startled by the touch, Alaine flinches, her eyes opening wide.
“Hey,” he Lucas says softly. “Tired?”
“A little,” she admits in her rough voice. “Are you okay? What did Seth...”
“No talking,” he reminds her. “The fire department has declared unofficially that the fire was set,” Lucas confesses after a brief hesitation. “It’s arson,” he clarifies as Alaine looks at him in confusion. “Someone started the fire.”
“What?” she croaks, clutching her chest. “Someone tried to kill Mona? Why?” she asks, her eyes suddenly wide with fright.
“I don’t know,” Lucas says with a helpless shrug. “Seth is working an angle. Do you know who Harlan Jackson is?”
Alaine blanches further. “Where’s my sister?” she asks. “And Isabella?”
“They’re fine,” Lucas assures her. “Listen,” he encourages to try to calm her rising panic. “We don’t know for certain that he’s responsible. But Mona wasn't the only one caught in that fire. If this guy is truly out to hurt you, I would like it if you stayed at my place for tonight. Just until we know for sure what’s going on,” he adds quickly.
There, he’d said it. Now Lucas waits with bated breath, while Alaine churns his invitation over in her mind.
She stares at him for a bit, her thoughts unfathomable. Lucas’ heart remains lodged in his throat.
Shaking her head, Alaine finally says, “no, I can’t.”
“Alaine...” Lucas begins to protest.
“No,” she repeats adamantly.
“Why not?” he demands. “Someone possibly tried to kill you, Alaine. Do you know how scared I was? I tried to call you. I got no answer. Do you know how terrifying tonight has been for me?” he asks his emotions slipping through his calm façade.
Silently, she continues to watch him.
Now that he has her full attention, Lucas swallows and continues. “Whether it is Harlan Jackson or someone else, they came after you. Not your sister,” he presses. “Whoever it is, is still at large. Please,” he begs. “Stay with me. At least until we find out if your sister’s boyfriend is still in Idaho or...” he adds then trails off. “Stay with me, please,” he repeats.
“My sister,” Alaine answers weakly. “I can’t leave my sister and my niece.”
“Fine, they can come too,” Lucas hears himself say.