“Loreina, can I talk to you for a minute?” I swallowed hard and excused myself from Neil and Essie. Alex pulled me gently to the side by my elbow.
“What’s wrong?” my heart picked up pace and I let out an unsteady breath.
“Howie’s truck blew up this morning.” Panic. My hands shook and my throat went dry.
“WHAT? WHERE WAS HE? IS HE OKAY?!” Alex’s hands took mine and he rubbed circles on the backs to console me.
“Lo, he’s fine. He’s at Sentara Regional. Lucas is looking into who did this. I need to talk to Neil. You and Gray go to your office. Just stay put.” he kissed my forehead and turned on a heel and walked over to talk to Neil.
I walked back into my office and started packing my things. I couldn’t focus. There was no way I would just stay here and work. My office phone rang, catching me off guard.
“Loreina Rossi?” My tone dry and flustered as I organized some folders for the next time I’d be in.
“Loreina, it’s Neil.” I swallowed and tried to scramble an excuse to let me leave early.
“Neil. listen, my brother Howie was in a car accident and I can’t stay. I’m not going to be able to do anything else with the other accounts today. I just can’t-” I was glad he cut me off before I choked up.
“Loreina, breathe. It’s fine. I am going to have someone follow your driver back to North End.” I rubbed my temples and begged him to not become involved. He wasn’t having it and told me once more the plan before hanging up, not giving me a second chance to argue.
A reminder went off on my calendar on my phone to turn in copies of payroll and the summaries for the live accounts going active today to Neil. UGH. I scooped them all up and quickly ran copies to get them upstairs. But the copy machine had other plans and gave me huge issues. I went through almost a full pack of paper before I had the six front and back pages done. How did Neil have a billion dollar dynasty but still wanted hard copies of such easily digitized documents?
I knocked on his door and waited a moment before he opened it, is there nothing that shocked me anymore? He was on his bluetooth headset and motioned for me to come in. I sat in front of his desk and fiddled with the tab on the top folder until he was finished and pulled the small black ear bud out and sat down across from me.
“Aren’t you supposed to be gone?” I was taken back at his stern tone and it was laced with another emotion. Concern? I couldn’t quite read him yet. I offered him the stack of paper in my lap.
“I don’t know what will happen tonight so I wanted to turn these in early.” he took them and flipped through them.
“This was all done today?” I nodded. “I’m impressed.” I blushed but wasn’t able to produce a smile. In fact my face fell. I couldn’t hide that I was worried. He tipped his head to the side as I looked away trying to pull it back together.
“Hey, don’t be sad. I talked to Alex earlier. He said Howie is doing great. He’s just sleeping right now. This, this job can wait. The accounts are ready, I will monitor them Wednesday as the money flows through. You go home and see your family. Okay?” I ran a finger under my nose to brush away that stinging feeling I got along with tears. As the first one fell he stood and walked over to me.
“Stand up.” that tone again. It made my heart race. It held authority. I did, not thinking and he hugged me. His body heat instantly warmed me. His chest fell as he exhaled and wrapped his long arms around me. My arms hugged his waist and I still choked back tears. We stood that way for a little longer than we should have, he cleared his throat and pulled away as unexpectedly as he had embraced me. I couldn’t form words, I simply took a shaky breath in. I turned on my heel to leave and was stopped one last time.
“Loreina, just- you can call me if you need me, anything really.” He cleared his throat, seeming not to be able to find the right sentence. My lips parted and nothing came out. He pressed his mouth into a thin smile.
The wide wooden door creaked lightly as I pushed it open. The lights were dim, only one on over the hand sink to the side of the room. He was alone. My heart broke as I walked to his bed and took his hand. His left eye was swollen shut. Purple and red, it looked so painful. His IV connected to the pump machine and produced a low, soft hum. A steady beep came from the monitor hung over his bed, following his heart rate. I found a chair off to the corner and I placed it against his bed and laid my head beside his arm. I watched him breathe for a long time before I noticed his head roll from his left side, to his right. I sat upright and took his hand again.
“Howie? Can you hear me? It’s Loreina…” I watched as his eyes rolled around inside his head before he pried them open.
“Oh, fucking hell… what happened Lo?” I paused. He didn’t remember?
“Howie, someone ran you off the road and your truck blew up after you hit a telephone pole. You don’t remember?” he shook his head no and winced.
“Are you in pain? What hurts? I can let a nurse know you’re awake.” He nodded and groaned as he shifted his legs, trying to find a more comfortable position. I stood and walked out into the hall and Gray had found a chair just down the hall. He smiled at me, offering me the seat beside his. I shook my head and kept walking.
“Loreina what the hell?! I told you to stay at the office damnit!?” I didn’t even turn around. Alex followed me to the nurses desk as I told them my brother was awake and seemed to be in some discomfort. They smiled and one stood up to get a chart and walked away to his room. It was then I spun around to meet my oldest brother’s stare.
“Okay, first, I’m fine. Second, you can’t keep me tied down at all times. Third, your little brother is awake and in pain. He’s worse than you lead me to believe. Was that so I wouldn’t come up here? He doesn’t even remember what happened.” He was speechless at my calm demeanor. I walked back down the hall to his room where I heard him curse and then apologize to the nurse.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to call you that, I just wasn’t expecting my whole leg to turn to lava.” She rubbed his thigh with a cotton ball and apologized for forgetting to warn him the solution would be a little uncomfortable. He flashed her a beautiful Rossi men smile and she blushed. I rolled my eyes. He wasn’t feeling badly enough not to flirt with the nurses. He thanked her by name for the pain medicine and she left, promising to return with something for him to drink.
“Hey little brother.” Howie waved and tried to push himself up in the bed. A groan echoed through the room and Alex swooped in, hooking his arm pit under his shoulder, lifting him up and I stuffed a pillow behind him and rearranged his blankets.
“Thanks man,” there was an awkward pause between them. “I think I’m starting to remember.” We sat down, I on the edge of his bed and Alex in the chair I had pulled up earlier.
It was just as the witness of the accident reported to the police. A large blue SUV just rammed him, forcing him off the road and, with the tree line approaching, he had no choice but to crash. His breaks just couldn’t catch in time. My heart hurt hearing his account of the incident as if telling a story he had never heard of before. Alex promised he’d be home in a day or two and called a few guys to come sit with him up here for protection.
His nurse soon returned with a coke and some ice. He flashed her one more killer smile.
“You know Stephanie, if I get out of here sooner than later I’d love to see you sometime. Under better conditions, of course.” she nodded and entertained his conversation for a bit longer before getting a page elsewhere.
“Okay, I’ll let you get some sleep. You’re falling asleep mid sentence now. Those meds did a number on you. I love you.” I kissed his forehead, as he did to me often and I left to go back home with Gray and Theo.