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Part Twenty Eight

A/N - sorry, having huge network probs, so difficult getting online to post! Am trying my best!!

                “I’m really sorry Laura, I so wanted to come with you!”

Laura smiled at her friend who looked like death in her bed, her pale face barely discernible from the white linen she lay on. “Michaela, you have flu, real proper flu, you can’t possibly think about coming to the dinner, it’s impossible. But I love you for wanting to!”

Michaela closed her eyes, close to tears, “you can’t go on your own, this is a huge thing!”

Laura kept the smile in place as she helped her friend to get comfortable, adjusting her position, “it’s fine. I don’t particularly want to go! I am going,” she quickly reassured her, “but it’s no big deal, honestly. Just gutted we won’t be having a night on the town together!” Laura grinned genuinely, “and this is all your own fault, I told you not to cavort on the beach in the rain with Paul!”

The other woman blushed, “I...I...”

Laura laughed, “I was joking...though I see there may be a little truth in my jest!” She gave an elaborate wink, “keep your phone on tonight, I’ll send you photos. Ok?”

Outside the house Laura sagged, she really hadn’t wanted to go to this event, Michaela had been the main nag to make her, now she was committed, but wasn’t looking forward to it. It wasn’t like she could ask anyone else, her parents were in New York, her best friends in Hawaii, and Adam was in California...not that she’d ask him!

The following day she stood in the hotel room overlooking the city and sighed, she had a beautiful dress, for once her hair was listening to her and behaving, and she’d paid a beautician to apply makeup, much to her mother’s disdain she rarely wore it.

As she was sliding on her heels, her phone rang, and glancing at it she saw her father’s mobile number flashing.

                “Dad? You ok?”

                “Of course we are, your mother is shopping in New York, it doesn’t get better than that for her! But I believe you have a big award tonight! You didn’t tell us, we would have been so proud to have come with you!”

Laura sighed, “Dad, it’s no big thing honest; I’m only going because my friend told me to. I’m not that bothered...”

                “You’re being rewarded for extreme bravery Laura, that is not ‘nothing’! If we had time we’d get home to support you, to show you how proud we are! But there isn’t time...”

Laura struggled to take in this, he’d never once said he was proud of her, not that she could recall, but then there was how the hell he’d found out about the awards in the first place. As she started to ask him there was a heavy knock at the door.

                “You’re obviously busy!” He offered sounding a little less aggressive than earlier. “Enjoy the limelight, I know you hate it, but you deserve it! Call me tomorrow; I’d love to hear all about it. Ok?”

She mumbled a “yes”, before the line went dead.

Still in a daze, she crossed the room then opened the door, and then she almost died.

Laura hadn’t seen Adam in over a month, since she’d run away from her parents’ home. And here he was, outside her room, looking devastating in an immaculate black tux. His hair was shorter than she remembered, and he was tanned, the Californian weather had been good to him. The mere sight of him caused waves of heat to wash over her and she reached for the door frame to steady herself.

                “Adam...” she finally managed to breath, flustered both by the surprise at him being there, and her overwhelming reaction to him.

When she met his eyes, she saw the same confusion there and knew this was hard for him too.

                “I can’t believe despite me asking every email what was happening that you didn’t tell me about this! I planned to come the minute I found out, I couldn’t believe you didn’t share this with me...then I realised your father didn’t know either.” He reached for her hands and Laura fought to hide the swoon that saw her sway. “You can’t hide your successes Laura, your father is devastated not to be here...”

She shook her head, clearing the fog, then snatched back her hands, “Adam, this isn’t that big a thing...”

He laughed, “you keep telling yourself that! But Elaine and John Reilly don’t agree with you, neither do their sons Mark and Elliot. That family would be devastated if it wasn’t for you. You saved a man’s life, and they if no one else, want to see you recognised for that. What you did that day was selfless, brave and beyond what most men would do. Don't you dare try to belittle that achievement!”

Despite the words there was no nastiness in his voice, breaking into a smile, he looked her up and down, “you look amazing, though you’ve lost weight! No one will believe that you could rescue a man twice your size!”

She bit her lip nervously, his speech had silenced her, at no point had she looked at things from the point of view of the family, of what would have happened if she HADN’T rescued him. Two boys fatherless, a woman widowed, all in one split second.  Tears prickled at the backs of her eyes and she blinked furiously not wanting to cry, partly as she didn’t want to lose face in front of him, and partly because she didn’t want to ruin her makeup.

Adam was in tune to that too, and stepped into the room, letting the door close behind them. “It’ll be a very emotional night, but it’ll also be fun, and sad, and a great honour for all in involved. Now. I do believe you need shoes.”

She nodded mutely then fumbled trying to get them on her feet; Adam swatted at her hands, then knelt on the floor beside her, guiding each foot into the high shoes. All of Laura’s tension and emotions disappeared, or rather regrouped as his hands scorched the skin on her ankles and feet.

When he finally uncoiled to his six feet, they were both flushed. And hyper aware of the other.

But true to his word, Adam wasn’t about to throw himself at a reluctant woman, so he became the perfect gent, offering her his arm, and his unending support.

                “So there are some really brave people here tonight!” Adam leaned in close, as the awards started. They’d been served a fantastic meal in the huge hotel ballroom, and more than a couple of glasses of champagne, Laura had been treated like a princess. But now as the real part of the night started, she was starting to appear nervous. Adam was trying his best to alleviate the mood. “Organ donors, mountain rescuers...”

                “And me!” She snapped, “Yep, I’m feeling the inadequacy perfectly thanks Adam!”

Taking her hands he pulled her around to face him, “on the contrary, all those things are brave, and I suppose there’s a risk to yourself when you donate a kidney to your child, but there’s no choice there, I’m sure. You chose to risk your life, for a stranger! You don’t realise how amazing that is!”

                “You make it out to be something spectacular Adam, I didn’t think, it wasn’t a conscious decision, I just did it.”

His face cut into a beaming smile, “exactly. It nearly killed you, you were so exhausted,” he shuddered for a moment. “But you did that on instinct, and you saved a family from devastation. You deserve so much more!”

She didn’t agree, but as she listened to some of the other stories, tears constantly peaking at her eyes, she began to appreciate that she had inadvertently become part of a very special club.

                “So, for out next award, I’d like to introduce a couple,” the DJ who was presenting the awards had a clear and strong voice. “This couple were enjoying a week on the Welsh coast from their home in Kent. Their sons Mark and Elliot loved the time on the beach. Elliot in particular as it was the family’s first holiday since he had recovered from leukaemia. Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for John and Elaine Reilly!”

The room erupted in applause and Laura’s head spun around to Adam and she mouthed the word “leukaemia?”

Adam nodded and leaned forward, “Elaine contacted me after the incident, she’s emailed me a few times, she didn’t think you wanted to hear her story, but she was so keen to tell you.”

Laura’s eyes were wide, “I’ve been selfish over this too?” Her voice was a whisper.

Adam grinned and shook his head, “no, you’ve just failed to process it fully. It’s been so important to Elaine and John that they thank you, that the world knows what you did.” He nodded back to the stage, and she saw the couple emerge.

                “So Elaine, you’d had rough few years?”

The dark haired woman smiled, “you could say that, but we were never so glad as when the consultant told us that he had the all clear. So a week at the Welsh coast was just what we needed as a family. We were too scared to travel overseas.”

The interviewer smiled, “but it didn’t go to plan?”

She shook her head, then reached for her husband’s hand, “the second day we were on the beach, the boys were playing, it was so great to see Elliot running, laughing...their football, well Mark kicked it, Elliot didn’t stop it and it flew out into the sea. When Elliot started to wade in to collect it, John,” She looked lovingly at her husband, “he said he’d get it.”

John placed an arm around her shoulder, “in all my male bravado I chased a cheap football out into what we didn’t realise was a dangerous eddy, the tide was changing, and I suddenly found I was struggling. The more I waved to the family, the more they laughed and waved back. It was only as I started to get sucked under that they realised I was in fact drowning.” His face was grim.

Elaine took over, “I started to panic, and then a woman appeared, shouted to call the coastguard, then without thought surged into the water after him.” The woman looked distraught and the host gave her a moment to compose herself, all the time Laura felt an unusual sensation washing over her. She’d saved that man, they were there talking about this because of her.

                “By then John’s head had disappeared, the boys were screaming. The man who appeared after the woman, Adam, he called the lifeguards, the coastguard, an ambulance, then he set off after her into the water.” she gulped, “it was then I saw him, this woman had found my husband, and was dragging him to shore. He needed CPR, but he started to breath, the ambulance had arrived. He had a few days in hospital, but here we are, ever indebted to Laura Marshall.”

At that exact moment a spot light shone on Laura, and she felt dreadful, every set of eyes in the room were on her. Adam nudged her as the presenter called her to the stage, then with legs that shook and a heart that raced, she paced her way across the room, barely remembering to breathe as she went.

As she climbed to the stage, the lights, the heat overwhelmed her, but she continued to walk towards the group gathered in the centre of it.  It was the first time she’d seen John Reilly since she’d tugged him up to the surface on the fate filled day. There were tears in his eyes as he pulled her into a hug that she reciprocated. The emotion of the moment surprised her. Then Elaine hugged her and whispered, “I’ll never thank you enough!” into her ear.

When they separated, the interviewer and DJ smiled, “so Laura, an average day at the beach, hey?”

She laughed, “hardly!”

                “Are you a lifeguard?”

She shook her head, “not really. I do give surf lessons at that beach,” she flinched at the sound of her voice reverberating through the speakers, “and it’s the insistence of the company I work for that we all are strong swimmers with first aid and life saving skills. We also help the young life savers club with swimming techniques.”

The man smiled, “so this was all your training coming into practice?”

Laura nodded, blinded by the lights, suddenly wanting Adam there to support her, “yes, it was. It was late evening; the lifeguards had finished their cover at the beach. I suppose the signs advising against swimming without them are something we’ve all ignored in the past. But this situation proved that the sea is a force to be reckoned with and is underestimated at your own peril.”

                “Wise words indeed, and you being there, and being so fearless is something this family will forever be indebted to.”

Laura smiled magnanimously, “I did what anyone else would do I’m sure.”

The male presenter laughed, “I think you underestimate your strength and courage. Which is why your nomination for the award by the Reilly family here made all the select committee agree that not only were you worthy of a bravery award, but that you should also receive several other prizes.”

Then she was inundated with flowers, champagne, the award - a wall mountable plaque, and then the piece de resistance. “Our proud sponsors here at the Bravery Awards have also given,” he retrieved an envelope from his inner jacket pocket, “first class air tickets to the city of your choice, to be taken anytime in the next twelve months. Congratulations!”

As applause echoed around the room, Laura spotted Adam walking across the stage to join them, and smiled gratefully as he took the gifts from her, and allowed her to lean against him. With the Reillys they left backstage and slumped into a relaxing lounge area.

It was there that John Reilly thanked the two properly and profusely, it was a really difficult conversation as she had no answer to their adulation, but she more than humoured them until they left.

Then there were journalists, dignitaries, members of the public, all wanting to congratulate her, talk to her, tell her how brave she was. For Laura it was the most surreal evening of her life, until then she genuinely had no idea that the events of that day back in the summer were so life changing, for so many people, including herself.

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